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Walton plays along gamely, but after the show he says, "Hey, that was terrible!"
The long day is finally over, but as Walton heads to the airport for the flight back to San Diego, Kolker starts talking about the big promotions he has in mind for the Clippers this year, including a Grateful Dead concert hosted by Walton, appearances by the famed San Diego Chicken and a cheerleading squad, the Clippers' Skippers, culled from among San Diego's finest examples of feminine pulchritude. "You can be one of the judges, Bill," he says.
"I'll just play basketball, Hal," says Walton. "I'm not a gimmick guy. Cheerleaders and chickens aren't my style."
The Waltons' new home on the north end of Balboa Park, a few blocks from the San Diego Zoo, is what a man with a new seven-year $7 million contract might be expected to own, and contrasts radically with the scruffy farmhouse and rundown apartment in downtown Portland where the Waltons used to live. It is a sprawling French-style house—seven bedrooms, seven baths, swimming pool, tennis court, spacious backyard—perfect for an expanding family, which the Waltons are; their third child is due in March. The rooms are done in earth tones, and the furniture consists mostly of huge pillows strewn about on warm, Indian-style rugs. There are walls full of books—every book from every college course Bill and Susan ever took, medical books, books on philosophy, religion and nutrition, plus countless other volumes. There are daguerreotypes of American Indians, a photograph of Malcolm X and a few Grateful Dead posters. With the exception of several shots of Bill in action, there is no clue that a star athlete lives here.
The house is wide open to friends and family members, who are free to show up, bed down in an empty room and stay a couple of days, helping themselves from the refrigerator and playing with the Waltons, who are always into one game or another. At meals, everyone at table joins hands as they say grace—the prayer is nothing exotic; just a standard thanksgiving to God for the blessings of the table and the day and a few requests that He watch out for the well-being of the diners. Susan, a funny, dynamic, auburn-haired pure-California lady, serves up bowls of salads, rice, beans, pasta, quiches and vegetables. Bill's portions are 2� times larger than those of all other normal-sized males, and he washes his food down with lots of beer.
Bill and Susan have been together since they met while attending UCLA seven years ago; they were married last February. Their premarital arrangement didn't upset their families, but they did try to make it official in Portland four years ago. "It was real crazy," says Susan. "All the parents and friends were over for dinner, people were passing joints back and forth across the table, and Jack Scott got real rambunctious. This was during the Patty Hearst stuff. Some DJ had written a song about her, and Bill's name was in it. Jack insisted on playing the record. That night Bill came down with tonsillitis and I had terrible stomach pains, and when we woke up in the morning. Bill said, 'Hey, I don't think we should get married.' I said, 'I don't either,' and we called the whole thing off."
At noon the next day, Walton is the featured speaker at a luncheon meeting of the Escondido Rotary Club, and the room is full. Once again decked out in a natty three-piecer, Walton could have been president of the local Jaycees or the Young Republicans, glad-handing, howdying and joking with all the Bobs, Jims and Harolds, the captains of the middle-class American business world. After watching Walton, who towered over the rest of the men on the dais, pledge allegiance to the flag and sing America the Beautiful, almost all the Rotarians remark in some fashion or another how good it is to see Bill "straightened out."
Taking the microphone, Walton is as smooth as a Vegas comic. He is Don Rickles as he barbs a couple of Clipper teammates in attendance, Johnny Carson as he delivers a few subtle double entendres and some harmless bathroom humor. He pokes fun at himself—" Portland wanted to trade me for Euell Gibbons and a case of carrot juice. That would be about right. Euell Gibbons and I played the same number of games last year"—and when the club president orders all members with beards to pay a dollar fine in honor of their guest, Walton quips, "Why don't you fine everyone without beards?"
He works the audience with practiced skill, although he had never made a speech of this kind before last November. He tells them lots of good, inside basketball stuff and a terrific story about how the Philadelphia 76ers tried to get him to quit school after his junior year at UCLA and sign with them in 1973. Walton had been having trouble sleeping in his tiny bed in the motel where the Bruins were staying before the NCAA championship game in St. Louis, so he arranged to switch hotels with Athletic Director J. D. Morgan, and after some confusion ended up in the Presidential Suite of the elegant Chase-Park Plaza. "It had three floors, telephones and televisions everywhere and a bed big enough for six," Walton said. "Well, we played a pretty good game of basketball to beat Memphis State. I took 22 shots, made 21 baskets and scored 44 points, and afterward everyone was coming back to the suite for a party. Now I'm the first one there, and I hear a knock at the door and there's Gene Shue and Irv Kosloff, the coach and owner of the 76ers. They walk in and look at this room and they don't know what I'm doing in there. Gene Shue says, 'Bill, we want you to come play for the 76ers. We're willing to pay you lots of money.' I look at them and I look around the room and I say, 'You've got to be kidding! How could you folks possibly do anything better than this? This is the way UCLA takes care of me, and I'm definitely going to stay!' So, they agreed and left, and then all my buddies came and we partied two or three days straight and had a great time!"
The Rotarians howl and applaud. Indeed, Walton's performance is so well received that he is able to slip into a pro-environmentalist, antinuclear-energy rap and out again so deftly that no one in the audience has time or reason to register so much as a snicker or a scowl. Later, one Rotarian who has followed Walton since Walton's high school days, says, "If anyone ever told me there'd be a day when I would enjoy listening to Bill Walton for an hour, I would have said he was nuts. But I'll be darned. The guy is terrific."