That night Walton is on the basketball court at a San Diego high school, along with several other present and former Clippers, Nater, Kevin Kunnert, Kermit Washington and Freeman Williams; Paul Westphal and Joel Kramer of the Phoenix Suns, who are summering in San Diego; Walton's friend and Ernie's son, Kiki Vandeweghe, who plays at UCLA; and some local players. While Walton jogs up and down the court, jumps rope, stretches out, everybody else shoots around, waiting for him to get ready. Then play begins, and Walton is devastating: running, jumping, passing, blocking shots, scoring, as though he had never been away. During one stretch he hits 10 or 11 baseline jumpers in a row. And after twice swapping players for weaker ones to even up the competition, Walton's team still wins every game. "You know what I'd say?" says Westphal. "I'd say we can stop waiting for Bill to get ready."
At 4 a.m. the next day it is off for Yosemite. It is the first real backpacking trip Walton has made since his first son was born, and he is, as he often used to say, "pumped."
Getting there involves an airplane ride and a 20-mile hitchhike, and Walton is joyous in his freedom. Cars pass by for a quarter of an hour before one finally stops—some kind of a vehicle designed for midgets. "Turn it down, are you kidding?" says Walton. "When I was 19 I hitched a ride in the back seat of a Volkswagen with two packs and a crate of tomatoes across my lap. For 300 miles! It was great!"
By dusk he is nine miles into the back-country and exhausted from walking, and after a plunge into an icy lake and a dinner of freeze-dried macaroni laced with chili sauce and hot coffee, Walton unrolls himself by the campfire.
"This thing about my changing..."he says. "I don't think I've changed as much as I've grown. Oh, I've changed in some ways, but everyone changes as they grow older and do different things. Because everything I said and did when I was younger was so scrutinized and chiseled in marble, now that I'm presenting myself differently, people think I'm a different person. No...you know, I have a wife and two kids now, and a third on the way. I can't be as selfish as I once might have been.
"At UCLA, one of the most difficult things was that I wasn't comfortable being a basketball star, not off the court, anyway. I wasn't used to having reporters following me around, and I wasn't ready for it. I just wanted to be a college student, spending my free time doing what my friends were doing, not talking to a lot of people I didn't know. I thought that was perfectly logical, but most people thought it was weird.
"Because I was a basketball star and not just another college student in the '70s, I was very weird. And very lonely. I didn't have a lot of friends. There were times when I had none. I used to walk to games wearing a T shirt and sandals, and people thought that was weird. I lived a half mile from Pauley so I walked, and people used to yell at me and say I was crazy. I really took it personally that people didn't like me. So I started riding my bike, because that was the only way I could get around without people stopping me, and they thought, 'Wow, that guy is weird!' "
The early '70s were bitter, divisive and passionate times, and like thousands of college students everywhere, Bill Walton was committed to stopping the Vietnam War, getting rid of Richard Nixon and exposing the abuses of the FBI. And when things finally began to heal, the protesters found places to live and work inside the patched-up society—in the law, the arts, business, politics. But it has taken until now, until he has put on a three-piece suit and started speaking to Rotary Clubs, for Bill Walton to be accepted.
"Athletes are always advised not to make waves," Walton says, "not to call attention to themselves in unpopular situations. I had been taught by my parents to be honest, and I always make a conscious effort not to separate one part of my life from another." Thus, when Walton was arrested for occupying the UCLA administration building along with 51 other students in 1972, he was the one who made the six o'clock news. He was the one whom Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty labeled "a Communist dupe." And when he said things like, "No man should be allowed to be President after he's 35," and, "If a black man gunned me down right now I'd figure it was all right because of what whites have done to blacks," the quotes were trumpeted in newspapers all across the country. Never mind that they were spoken by a 20-year-old sophomore, this was an All-America speaking, and the country had a right to know.
Early in his senior season certain aspects of Walton's life clashed with those of his superconservative coach, John Wooden. They had nothing to do with basketball. Walton's vegetarian diet, his resistance to Wooden's strictures about haircuts, the fact that he was living with Susan, things he did in the privacy of his home, brought about a confrontation. Wooden felt that Walton was being led astray by one of his teammates.