Nate is a voracious reader and has a free-spiritedness that calls to mind his middle name, White Cloud. His teammates have grown accustomed to his quirkiness, whether it's his dead-on impression of his dad or his propensity to do homework on the road while naked. Moreover, Nate is a politics major, a yellow-dog Democrat whose senior thesis is a feisty rebuke of George W. Bush that asks the question, What does it mean for government to be compassionate? "When we were little, my dad didn't tell us ghost stories about the bogeyman," Nate says. "We heard stories about Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon."
There will be no Nixonian V signs tonight for Princeton, however. Though the Tigers came into the game atop the Ivy League, the Lions pull away for an easy 59-42 win. "I wish I had played better, but he understands," says Nate, who's suffering from a stomach virus. "My dad has told me many times that it's what you do in the face of adversity that counts."
There's scant time for Bill to impart any other words of wisdom before the two part ways. Nate has to catch the team bus for the ride to Cornell, where Princeton will play the next night. Bill has an 8 a.m. flight to Sacramento to do a Kings-Jazz game. Believe him when he says he travels 700,000 miles a year. This will be his third cross-country trip in as many days.
Day 3: March 3, San Diego, Colorado State at San Diego State
Before Tuffy's regular-season finale (more on Chris Walton's phat nickname later), we have a full day planned. First comes Stanford's win over UCLA at Pauley, where Bill chats up Wooden and Lithgow, who happens to be sitting next to us. Then we get on the bus—or, rather, in the rented Caddy—and drive to the Waltons' three-acre hacienda in San Diego. It's a monument to Wooden and the Dead (an odd juxtaposition, to say the least), a place where two dozen friends and family members hang out in the summer by the pool or (not as frequently) in the Manhattan-studio-sized tepee, a gift to Walton from a Native American group.
Tuffy, a 6'8" freshman forward, may be the fourth Walton son to play college basketball, but that doesn't mean any of the boys were steered toward his father's calling. "Basketball is my life," says Bill. "Nothing says it has to be their lives too. Our main emphasis has always been education and learning how to create a life for yourself."
Says Susie, who teaches a popular parenting course in San Diego called Redirecting Children's Behavior, "If you get so involved in your kids' sports, they won't know if they're playing for you or for themselves. Our kids played because they wanted to play."
Oh, about that nickname. Tuffy (the name by which everyone in the family but Bill hails the youngest child) is a play on Topher, which Christopher was christened by a German nanny. "Tuffy has always had a mind of his own, but he adores his brothers," Susie says. In junior high he would cobble together their news clips and box scores and paste them in scrapbooks. Late this afternoon, in fact, Tuffy was glued to his headphones, listening to the Internet broadcast of Nate's game against Brown. "From Adam on down, I've used my brothers as role models," Tuffy says. "Anything I could learn from them has helped me."
Before long, the brothers may be learning a few things from Tuffy. San Diego State (14-13 through Sunday), led by former Michigan coach Steve Fisher, is trying to finish above .500 for the second time since 1985, but tonight it has let a double-digit lead drop to three points with four minutes to go. Then Tuffy, a reserve, takes over. He drives for a three-point play. He tips in a missed free throw. He even looks over and winks at Pops in the stands. By the time Tuffy pulls down the final rebound of the Aztecs' 78-73 win, he has set career highs in minutes (28) and points (13). The Cox Arena P.A. announcer booms, "And the Xerox player of the game is...Chris Walton!"
It has been, to put it mildly, a good evening for the clan. Luke's No. 9 Wildcats thrashed Oregon by 39 points, while Nate's Tigers smoked Brown to ensure themselves at least a share of the Ivy League title.