Walton, who has flown to Egypt to attend a Grateful Dead concert at the base of the Great Pyramid during a lunar eclipse, points to the flat rock. "There's the band," he says, allowing his imagination to roam. "And they're already playing." His arms go out as if he's conducting, and the steady electric blues beat takes over.
The song plays through, though Walton doesn't make a sound—until it comes time for the chorus, which he chooses to sing out loud, along with the imaginary band:
Sometimes the light's all shining on me
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me
What a long, strange trip it's been...
This week spent with Walton is that long, strange trip in microcosm. It begins where it should, at UCLA, where Walton will appear at an All-Star game for the benefit of the Soulville Foundation, a charity for underprivileged children in Los Angeles. The afternoon before the game, there is an invitation-only cookout in the lush UCLA Sculpture Garden, a chance for beautiful people to be seen in their California cookout finery, eat hot dogs and ribs and meet pro basketball players such as Swen Nater, Gus Williams, Paul Westphal, Marques Johnson, Dennis Johnson, Magic Johnson...and Bill Walton. Most of the chitchat is about Walton, who has not yet arrived. "Is he healthy?" "Can he play?" "Is he really wearing suits?"
Nater, who was Walton's substitute in college and is his teammate in San Diego, puts worriers to rest. "Bill's all right," he says. "He'll make a real fine backup for me."
Soon there is a commotion. Walton arrives, dressed in cutoffs, T shirt and sandals—the uniform he made infamous during his undergraduate days—along with his wife, Susan. Walton is carrying their two sons, 3-year-old Adam and 1-year-old Nathan, and a blue Frisbee. He makes his way through the crowd with a few "hellos" and perfunctory handshakes, telling everyone "the foot feels fine." He spots a friend and wings the Frisbee. The crowd clumsily parts to make room for his high-energy game. Children flock around him, wanting to play. "You can play," Walton tells them, "if you play with your own Frisbee." Later he says, "One thing I've learned is not to let other people spoil my fun."
After an hour the Waltons leave and go to a natural-foods restaurant in Westwood, because Bill has become disgusted by the hog-dog eaters. Susan says, "Oh, Bill. When I first met you you used to eat hot dogs for breakfast!"
The Waltons will drive back to San Diego following the game, but after lunch Bill registers at a hotel for the sole purpose of changing into a checked three-piece suit. "Two years ago I showed up at this game in rags and I never heard the end of it," he says. He does not play, but sits next to Coach Lenny Wilkens on the bench, sings The Star-Spangled Banner sotto voce, smiles for photographers and grants interviews freely. People buzz about "the new Bill Walton," and Walton clearly loves it. A friend points to banners hanging from the Pauley Pavilion ceiling commemorating the NCAA championships won in two of Walton's years at UCLA, 1972 and 1973. "No 1974," says the friend. "Embarrassing," says Walton.
The next morning Walton returns to Los Angeles for a whirlwind day. He is chauffeured around town in a stretch limo, his appointments clicked off by Hal Kolker, once the personal representative of rock star Neil Diamond, now the Clippers' vice-president in charge of marketing and promotion. The first stop is a visit with Dr. Tony Daly, Walton's orthopedic surgeon, and Dr. Ernie Vandeweghe, pediatrician, former Colgate and New York Knicks star and longtime friend of Walton's.