SI Vault
Curry Kirkpatrick
February 05, 1973
Their image is as austere as Yankee pinstripes, but as one of UCLA's record setters says, they are actually a gang of freewheelers. An intimate look at the young men behind all those big statistics
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February 05, 1973

Who Are These Guys?

Their image is as austere as Yankee pinstripes, but as one of UCLA's record setters says, they are actually a gang of freewheelers. An intimate look at the young men behind all those big statistics

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"I wouldn't blame the blacks if they took up arms and went into outright revolt. If a black man gunned me down I'd figure it was all right because of what whites have done to blacks."

Bill Walton pleads to be left alone, guards his privacy with a passion and longs to be recognized as a human being rather than as an athlete. But with his fame has come a certain mellowing. "Last year I didn't understand the reactions to me," he says. "People made a fuss, a hassle, and I didn't like it. I was hostile, antagonistic, sometimes downright rude. I'm not laughing at them anymore. I understand the role reversals, the hero-worship deal. I now understand people for what they are rather than for what they think I am."

For all the grave posturing and momentous statements that have caused storm clouds to gather at his every move, Bill Walton beneath his stony surface is nothing but a big, fun-loving teddy bear of a college kid. One who can't wait for basketball to end so he can get that bushy red hair down to his shoulders. So he can wear a bathing suit to class. So he can rap out there in the sun with all those Cybill Shepherds waiting on the UCLA lawns. So he can hike in the mountains, surf the ocean, get back "to any kind of nature" and hide from the torture caused by peanut-brittle knees.

Clothes mean nothing to Walton, money nothing; friendship and some solitude, everything. He has a kind of lisp—the words sometimes come fizzing from under the tongue—a toothy, goofy grin and a marvelous lantern of a face that will be just right for the cartoonists as soon as he signs his trillion-dollar contract with the San Diego Trail-blazing 76ers, or whomever.

Walton tries not to think about that. Whether to leave school after his junior season is much too difficult a decision for the moment. He has said, "I couldn't look forward to tomorrow if I deserted my teammates," and he is devoted to his coach. Upon the team's discovery that John Wooden had been hospitalized with heart trouble in December, the first reaction was Walton's "that so-and-so, he better get back here fast. We need him." On the other hand, a reoccurrence of Wooden's trouble would assuredly be a factor in Walton's decision. He admits to more and more disgust at the college rules—that he cannot dunk, that teams can stall and moreover that "the best players are restricted." He says he is zoned, triple-teamed and frustrated to pieces.

While he remains at UCLA Bill Walton ices his troublesome knees at the training table meal—his teammates have become used to The Center eating dinner in his underwear. He reads Michener for pleasure. He rides a 10-speed bicycle. And—on the eve of his historic trip to the Midwest last week—he hustled down to Long Beach to take in a rock concert by Traffic.

The Point Man was sitting on a straight-back chair in what he calls his "makeshift" room in the Phi Kappa Psi house. He was eating dinner. This consisted of raisins, sunflower seeds and several different flavors of yogurt out of the small icebox in the corner. On the walls were posters advertising the dangers of marijuana, the words of Henry David Thoreau and sex. On the record player was Van Morrison. On the desk were cans of potato soup and apple juice, cereal boxes and a large jar of Cucamonga organic honey.

Greg Lee was in his 19th day of vegetarianism, which he had picked up from his older brother, a creative-writing student at Utah. Lee says people who eat meat are cannibals and that he feels much better since he started putting away all those vegetables plus some protein pills he gets from Dr. Ernie Vandeweghe, the old star from Colgate.

Lee is the son of the basketball coach at Reseda High School. He was a 4.0 student there with an all but photographic memory and a gift for mathematics. He dropped his first math course at UCLA fast, though, saying he "couldn't get psyched up for competing with a bunch of kids with two-inch glasses studying their heads off." Now he is in history, but he is disillusioned by the learning process. Some of the time, he says, he really gets inspired and cares and wants knowledge. "Mostly," he says, "school is a joke."

Lee enjoys a course concerning the history of relationships between men and women which he and Walton take on Monday evenings. The two also take Music 139. After injury and illness bogged him down early in the year and he played badly, Lee was ready to call it a season, to "bag it." He had lost his starting position to Tommy Curtis and playing wasn't fun anymore. It meant just trying to win back the position.

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