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My Three Sons
Grant Wahl
March 12, 2001
What a long, strange trip it was when the author hooked up with the ol' Deadhead Redhead, Bill Walton, to see a trio of Walton kids play the family sport
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March 12, 2001

My Three Sons

What a long, strange trip it was when the author hooked up with the ol' Deadhead Redhead, Bill Walton, to see a trio of Walton kids play the family sport

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"Who you rooting for, Bill?"

"A good game," he replies.

It's an important game, too, because UCLA and Arizona are neck and neck in the Pac-10 race, two games behind Stanford. Luke is the Wildcats' sixth man—one of the nation's best, a deft passer who's also averaging 6.0 points—and he's unmistakably Bill's boy, from the red mop top to the baritone voice to the tribute on his right biceps: a tattoo of four dancing skeletons spinning basketballs. It's an homage to the Dead, one spinner for each of the Walton brothers. (The oldest, Adam, 25, played at LSU and the College of Notre Dame in Belmont, Calif.) "We grew up listening to the Dead," Luke says. "At home there's a picture of me backstage at one of their concerts. I must have been four or five."

Wooden isn't a tattoo man, though, and neither is Bill. "When I first saw it, I was concerned they had run out of soap in Arizona," Bill says. "Oh goodness gracious sakes alive!"

"It's a pretty sweet tattoo, though," I say.

"Isn't that an oxymoron?"

Of the four sons, Luke is regarded as the best pure athlete—his brothers jokingly dubbed him The East German as a child for his singular pursuit of sports—but he's a whip-smart student of the game, too. When Luke, as a freshman at San Diego's University High, joined Nate on the varsity, he already knew all the plays, having watched his brother's games so closely. Says the boys' mother, Susie, who was divorced from Bill in 1989, "Luke is like a chess player. He sees things four moves ahead."

Tonight, though, Luke doesn't get his first basket until midway through the second half, when the Bruins are leading by 11. Then a strange thing happens. Arizona rallies to tie the game, the Pauley crowd goes apoplectic, and Bill, bombastic broadcaster, is...silent. Hands stuffed in his pockets, he looks as if he's watching C-SPAN. "Come on," I say. "You must be dying."

"I'm a proud dad," he says over the din. "I'm also a proud alum."

UCLA wins in overtime. We scamper from press row seconds before the Sons of Westwood storm the court. "Luke's going to need some cheering up," Bill says.

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