All my life I've had to make big decisions. It started in junior high school, when different schools were trying to get me, offering me free lunch and carfare. Now I'm 38 years old and over the last 25 years or so I've made decisions about high school, a college, the Globetrotters, three teams in the NBA and one in the ABA. Teams are still competing for me, only now they're offering me figures that are getting to be around a million dollars a year. This time I've decided to turn them all down. I've decided to retire from basketball, as player and as coach. I want to produce a motion picture and travel around the world some more and keep on playing beach volleyball and advance the interests of Wilt's Wonder Women and Wonderettes, formerly known as the La Jolla Track Club.
I'm still wearing a rubber band around my right wrist, the way I have since I was a kid worrying about my basketball socks falling down. Now I tell people I have my rubber bands made by Gucci. I'll probably die wearing a rubber band, but I've taken my last professional shot and I don't even remember whether it went in. It doesn't matter. I changed the whole sport of basketball in many ways—more than people want to give me credit for. But I'm satisfied.
Last month I spent 10 or 11 days in the town of Jelsa on the island of Hvar, off the Dalmatian coast. Just getting away from it all—no phones, nothing but the Adriatic Sea and some peace and tranquillity. I was able to do some clear thinking there about things I want to do and things I don't want to do.
Of all the don'ts, No. 1 has to do with the regimentation of my time. Last year when I was coaching the San Diego Q's my team sometimes had to get up at five in the morning and travel all day to play that night. The pro season is almost two months longer than when I started playing in '59. They've saturated sports with too many games, and I find it a total drag. I don't want to give up my time to the man, so to speak, or to any man. I've made a lot of money in basketball, and now I can't live in a better house than mine in Bel Air, which is a sort of living monument to what a man can do if he has concentration and works hard for what he believes. And I can't eat a better steak than the ones I eat regularly. My accountant says maybe it would be good if I went on and played one more year. But now is the most precious thing to me. I don't plan to work for anybody ever again. With someone, but not for someone.
I've invested my money well; I've had good advice. The economy certainly looks bad now, but I don't contemplate that there'll be another big depression. If things do go all awry—hey, I've worked hard all my life. I'll get a job in a steel mill or something. I'd be a good truck loader.
I'm in better shape physically and mentally than I was six years ago when I joined the Lakers. I'll go to the beach at nine or 10 in the morning and play until seven or eight o'clock at night. I may lose 19 or 20 pounds. I exercise just as hard as I did playing basketball, and without the mental hassle. Most of my endeavors in life are still physical. I'm a physical being. I weigh about 285 right now; I played at 295 or 300. Five or six years ago you couldn't touch my knees. They were like Willis Reed's. Now my knees are in fantastic shape. I don't have any pain or arthritis I know of.
When I was younger I used to wonder why some old ballplayers held on. But that was a dumb young man's view. It is a job. It puts food on the table. I'd go on and play as long as I could if I could use the money. I'd rationalize, "Hey, the days I was really doing it for people I didn't get as much as I should have. Why shouldn't I get some money I don't deserve now?" But I don't need to do that, and I can't spare the time.
I've never played any of my "final" games—with Kansas, with the Warriors or the 76ers or the Lakers—knowing that it would be the last. I remember with the Lakers, every town we'd go into toward the end of the season it was supposed to be the last game Jerry West would play there, and there'd be Jerry West Day here, Jerry West Night there, and that went on for three years. Now he's just signed a long-term contract. All I remember about what turned out to be my last NBA game, in the '73 playoffs, was that we lost to the Knicks. All I remember was a feeling of disgust. Actually, I was satisfied with my own effort in that series, but I never thought of it as being a finale. I do remember last August 13th, the Maurice Stokes exhibition game at Kutsher's Country Club. I hadn't played basketball in a year and a half. The heat was 95�. The first two or three times busting downcourt it was tough to catch my breath. But I must've blocked 11 or 12 shots. I took just one shot and missed, and felt I got fouled. I looked over at Mendy Rudolph who, I thought, always gave the edge of that whistle to Bill Russell and always took it from me, and he didn't call the foul that time either, and we smiled at each other.
Last year every sportswriter in every town would ask, "Hey, don't you miss being out there, big fella?" I had to say no. Whenever I stepped out on the floor people expected something out of me, and as a man I wanted to be able to give it to them. But it's not worth it anymore. They expected me to be better than anybody else. Better than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or whoever was out there. Now I've learned to sit back and enjoy the talents of other people. I'm interested in how Bill Walton will work out. About the only two people who have really played the center position on offense are me and Kareem. All the others have been like forwards offensively. I'm interested in seeing how much offense Walton will try to play. If they're expecting him to score 30 points a game and also play defense, then he'll have some problems. I'll tell you something I've noticed about Walton—he has had difficulty playing good centers, like John Shumate of Notre Dame, one-on-one. Walton is great the same way Bill Russell was great, at seeing ways to help out his team—coming out to take certain things away from the other offense. I think Walton's going to be great because Portland has some shooters to do the scoring.
But I don't have any desire to play against Walton. I don't see him as a challenge. I didn't find Bill Russell a challenge. It's not a one-on-one game. Jerry West is a great player, but he gets burned one-on-one.