Cheering up takes many forms. The Walton entourage—Bill and his wife, Lori; Luke and his Arizona teammate Richard Jefferson; Adam and six other relatives and friends—gathers over chicken wings and strawberry shakes at Jerry's Deli in Marina del Rey. "That was a big three you had tonight, Luke," his cousin Harmony says.
"But I didn't have any three-pointers," Luke replies.
"No," Harmony deadpans, "that was a big three points you had."
Dis, Harmony. The mood lightens. Then Bill offers one last Woodenism (Remember, two nights before the next game is the most important night for sleep) and rises to leave. He has to catch the redeye to New York.
"I love you," Luke says, wrapping Pops in a bear hug. "Thanks for coming."
Day 2: Feb. 16, New York City, Princeton at Columbia
Less than 24 hours after saying goodbye to Luke, we're watching Nate take the court at Levien Gymnasium, a below-ground bandbox a few blocks from President Clinton's new offices in Harlem. Walton has been doing voice-overs all day for NBC's NBA broadcasts, proving again that he has more energy than the state of California. Fortunately, the shackles are off tonight. He cheers. He claps. He's just another dad, only louder. As Nate scores seven of the Tigers' first nine points, Bill bellows like a hog caller: "Attaway, attaway, attaway! Let's go, Princeton! Come on, Tigers!"
"Being a college basketball player is the greatest joy in life," Bill says, extending his fused left ankle over the bleacher seat in front of him. "You get up in the morning, listen to fascinating people talk about different subjects, play ball all afternoon, study, go to bed and then do it all over again. How perfect is that? Princeton has done for Nathan what UCLA did for me. It's given him a full life, a balance."
Bill finally realized that Nate had left the nest one night in 1996. UCLA was playing Princeton in the NCAA tournament, and Nate, who had just committed to the Tigers, was at the game in Indianapolis. Bill was watching at home in San Diego with several Bruin buddies. "We've got our letterman jackets on, we've lit the votive candles, and UCLA's killing them," Bill says. "Then it turns around, and Princeton wins. We're having a wake at our house, and we see Nate running on the court, cheering! The sense of joy and pride you have when your sons develop was almost worth the bitter defeat."
Nate, a 6'7" senior forward who has been pressed into playing center, is Princeton's captain, and his all-around game—through Sunday he led the Tigers in points (10.6), rebounds (5.5) and assists (4.4)—is reminiscent of Larry Bird's, which makes sense. Nate grew up playing two-on-two in the family driveway with Bird against Bill and Adam, and he remembers how Bird would take each game as seriously as the NBA Finals and then leave the last shot for "The Game-winner," as Larry Legend affectionately called Nate. Nate's uniform number? Bird's 33, of course.