Been thinkin', you got to mellow slow
Takes time, you pick a place to go
And just keep truckin' on....
—THE GRATEFUL DEAD, Truckin'
Come on, we're on tour, get on the bus
before it fills up!
—BILL WALTON, e-mail message, March 2
Well, it's a rented Cadillac, not the tie-dyed VW bus you might have expected, but who's complaining? We're rollin' down the San Diego Freeway last Saturday, Bill Walton's at the wheel, and life couldn't be grander. All three of Walton's Division I-dwelling sons—Luke ( Arizona), Nate ( Princeton) and Chris ( San Diego State)—are playing tonight, in three time zones, on the final day of our odyssey. We've already seen plenty, of course, from John Wooden to John Lithgow, from a real-life Grateful Dead drum set to a 16-foot-high, telephone-equipped backyard tepee. And that was just today.
What is this journey, you ask? If there's no following the Dead anymore, I thought, why not do the next best thing? Why not take a long, strange trip with the proudest Pops on the planet to watch Luke, Nate and Chris play ball? By the end of our three-game, coast-to-coast, 5,000-mile triptych, I just might learn a few things from the ol' Deadhead Redhead.
Day 1: Feb. 15, Los Angeles, Arizona at UCLA
"Hey, Walton, you suck!" screams a Pauley Pavilion patron standing three rows behind Bill Walton. Such is life for Luke, a 6'8" sophomore forward who spurned UCLA for the Wildcats. As the only Walton boy who enrolled in a Pac-10 school. Luke has heard the obligatory "Who's your daddy?" chants at Oregon this season. Now, moments before tip-off, a sprightly young Bruinite hands Bill a copy of The Sons of Westwood, a handout that sounds like the work of a Fascist hate group but is in fact the work of a perfectly harmless hate group that circulates info on opposing players among UCLA fans so they can ride their foes. For the Sons, every Arizona player is fair game, including this son of a Son of Westwood: "Luke Walton—the son of Bruins great Bill Walton who led UCLA to two championships and a record 88-game win streak. Sorry, son. Who's [sic] house? DAD'S HOUSE."
Bill sighs. "This is the hardest night of the year," he says, munching nervously on his popcorn. "My life is a shrine to John Wooden and the Pyramid of Success. I took all my sons to Coach Wooden's house to learn how to put their shoes and socks on, the same way he taught me. I'd write all his sayings on their lunch bags. Be quick but don't hurry. Never mistake activity for achievement. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. I came to UCLA 30 years ago, and there are still so many of the same season-ticket holders. See that usher over there? He was here when I was here!"
Then again, that's Luke in the visitors' red. The conflict is unbearable. As the autograph hounds snake by, they sound a variation on the same theme.
"Bill, who's going to win?"
"Bill, hope Luke gets 30 and the Bruins win by two."