Lee remembers that
Walton enjoyed delving into ideas almost as much as playing ball. "I've
never seen anybody who could thrust himself into causes as wholeheartedly or as
fast as Bill. Boy, could he get excited. He used to come into my room at seven
in the morning with his eyes wide open, saying 'Let's go!' You could almost
make a list of the things we were into. First, there was politics, which I
loved, then there was the diet, then bicycles, which Bill got into very heavily
but I didn't, then transcendental meditation, though by that time I was into
self-hypnosis. And as a freshman Bill was practically celibate, so I got him
going with the chicks. And of course Dylan was from me. But Joe McDonald is
from the people up north. Bill never had any Fish albums at school."
There were other
gurus for Walton besides Lee—among them a diminutive political expert from
Chicago and a local meditation/vegetarian expert. But by graduation he felt he
was ready to go it alone.
He had said
publicly that he would only play where it was warm, and when he arrived in
Oregon in early May that was how he found it. He reveled in the sun and lush
green countryside. "I can't stand the smog in L.A. I may never go to
Southern California again," he told people. "I'm in love with the pure
wilderness of Oregon."
Sam Gilbert, a Los
Angeles construction millionaire who had been a confidant and adviser of Walton
and other UCLA players, went with Walton and together they found a plot along
the bank of the Willamette River for the special home Walton had dreamed of—one
with dimensions that would fit him and with plenty of room for semi-permanent
guests. The lot was on Nixon Avenue. "We'll impeach the street!" cried
"There was a
bicycle path that went for miles along the river and there were mountains to
climb and a blue sky above," says Gilbert. "Bill was happy, wild. He
wanted land, land. All his dreams had come true."
located a very laid-back natural food restaurant called The Center for Truth.
For Walton it was especially pleasant because no one gawked. Months later,
staring out at the drizzle of the gloomy Oregon winter, he would sit there
picking at a bowl of rice, wondering how things could have gone so bad.
The Eden started
to dissolve with the coming of the rainy season. He had been warned about the
rain. In a last-ditch effort to sway him, the ABA representatives had prepared
a chart of Portland's massive annual rainfall and told him jokes about people
in Oregon rusting rather than tanning. But in the grandeur of spring and summer
he had forgotten.
"Bill has a
real thing about the sun," says Wicks. "He feels he actually gets
energy from its rays. But up here when the sun goes away you don't see it for
five months. When Bill finally realized that, he was crying."
As his depression
deepened, and his injuries lingered, the Blazers continued to play without
Walton, and his relations with his teammates worsened.
At one practice on
the morning after a game—in which he, of course, had not played—Walton came to
the gym full of pep and proceeded to block his tired teammates' shots in layup
drills and make a general nuisance of himself. "Why don't you run by
yourself, Dollar?" snapped John Johnson. Other Blazers tried to ignore his
presence. But when Wilkens left the floor to go to an appointment, the players
suddenly surrounded Walton, grinning slyly. "Let's take our frustrations
out on Captain Flake," someone said, cocking a ball behind his ear.
"Yeah, give me your paychecks, too," shouted Walton. "You already
got 'em!" answered Johnson, and the first ball whistled past Walton's head.
Another caromed off his leg. Soon the air was filled with sizzlers as every
player blasted away at the dodging, swearing center. They chased balls into the
stands, laughing like maniacs, and returned to throw them at Walton, again and