In the morning, the food sack is found ripped in two, and everything is gone but the powdered milk—"I didn't like that stuff anyway," says Walton. Even a plastic bottle of suntan oil, pierced by two nasty teeth, has been drained. So the trip is abandoned early, and Walton and his companions set out toward the Tuolumne Meadows ranger station, looking for a fat bear getting a suntan.
In between there are a few stops and more talk. Walton is fighting actively against nuclear energy and thinks that "all the nuclear waste should be dumped in Richard Nixon's front yard." He likes California Governor Jerry Brown and would like to see him run for President. Walton also is very concerned about human rights and world hunger. His solution is to break up the industrial oligarchies and put business in the hands of the enterprising, caring little guys, which, millionaire though he is, he insists include himself. He makes a joke about being a "born-again capitalist" and pulls from his pack a bottle of Bill Walton's Wonder Bee Pollen, which the bear missed, because Walton had cached it in his pack the night before. Packaged by Earth Mother Corp., of which Walton is part owner, its label shows Bill playing basketball with a huge American flag behind him, and includes his signed endorsement: "...not only is it good for me, it's good for everyone."
The "born-again capitalist" remark and Walton's new reverence for the flag have been used in newspaper articles to neatly explain his transformation—the speeches, the suits, the squeaky-clean image. "Doesn't it offend you," he is asked, "that these symbols are what is important, more important than who you really are?"
"Why?" he says. "I got tired having people thinking I'm weird. In Portland, because I had long hair I was weird. Because I liked to be outside I was weird. Because I liked the Grateful Dead I was weird. Because I had friends living in my house I was weird."
"When you won the NBA championship you weren't so weird."
"Yes I was. But I was tolerated. When I decided I had to quit the Trail Blazers I was very weird. That's why it's so great to be in California. Here I'm normal" Walton laughs and laughs.
"This is the thing. That year and a half that I couldn't play basketball I did a lot of thinking. I realized that life is much more enjoyable if people like you, and that you don't have to compromise your values to have that. Take the Rotary Club. The Pledge of Allegiance, singing
America the Beautiful, wearing a suit, those are rituals. The Grateful Dead has rituals, too. The important thing isn't the rituals, it's the communication that follows. The important thing is for me to get up there and talk to those people. It's foolish to get into arguments over idiotic issues like the Pledge of Allegiance, the clothes I wear, the food I eat. Those are all personal things. What's important is to talk to people. You're never going to influence people by telling them they're foolish. The best way is to tell them they're great. Why haggle over labels—remember, I've never been a gimmick guy—when all you want to do is get your message across? And it's much easier to get your message across if people think you're just like them."
The rest of the hike is quiet. The temperature is 96�. Walton waves off an offer of water. "Right now I'm just thinking beer," he says. "I want to get so thirsty I can't even talk."
When he finally reaches civilization he is slightly down. But he hits the first store for a case of beer and finds a lake beside which to drink it all. The glow comes back, and things could not be more perfect for Walton. He is excited about being with the Clippers—with the extraordinary shooter Lloyd Free and with his old friend Greg Lee and with Gene Shue, the coach who tried to coax him out of the Presidential Suite in St. Louis.
But he knows there still remains a matter to be cleared up: just how much flesh Commissioner Larry O'Brien will extract from the Clippers as compensation to make his old team, the Trail Blazers, "whole."