Few speakers are more qualified to talk about overcoming obstacles and perseverance than basketball legend Bill Walton. He played an integral part on three of the sport’s most celebrated teams while battling a steady barrage of knee and foot injuries. He later overcame a stutter and established a post-playing career as a color commentator. Most recently, he recovered from a debilitating back injury and returned to both broadcasting and public speaking.
So it’s no surprise that basketball was only one of the myriad topics Walton discussed during his visit to the University of Washington last week.
The event was part of the nine-week Walton on Wheels Tour, which featured the basketball legend speaking at Pac-12 schools by day and broadcasting Pac-12 basketball games by night. He arrived on campus to promote–and call–that night’s game between the Huskies and Oregon Ducks.
Walton had plenty of material to draw from during the event. He first rose to national fame as a member of the legendary UCLA basketball team coached by John Wooden; Walton was part of the UCLA team that won 88 consecutive games. He was then taken as the number one overall draft pick by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1974 NBA Draft and helped lead the franchise to its only NBA title in 1977. Injuries derailed a promising career, but Walton stayed close to the game by becoming a color commentator after retiring.
Walton has since gained acclaim for his positive demeanor, rambling nature, and love of life. It was all on display last week as Walton discussed that evening’s game, his career, his mentors, and the importance of a positive attitude. Here, edited for space and clarity, are a few of Walton’s thoughts:
Walton spoke glowingly about his college coach, John Wooden:
“When you think about what John Wooden taught, he taught us how to think, how to use that library, how to use that smartphone, how to drink deeply from all sources of knowledge. He taught us how to dream, and he taught us how to compete.”
Walton spoke about his heroes, including Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King Jr., and Bill Russell:
“They lived, they played with passion and purpose. Their life was not about stuff. Their life was not about material accumulation and physical gratification. They were the antithesis of selfishness and greed. If you think of all the problems that we have in whatever it is that we’re facing, it all comes back to selfishness and greed.”
Walton used basketball as a metaphor for life:
“Everybody’s involved. In basketball, you only have to wait for the opening tip. And then there are endless possibilities to make a positive contribution. The same way when you guys get out of bed and put your feet on the floor, you gotta know in your mind, ‘Today, I’m gonna do so many fantastic things that, by the time I get back here to this bed, I’m going to be so tired. I’m gonna win some, I’m gonna lose some, but I’m gonna chase it down. I’m going to build my life, and I’m gonna try to make other people’s lives better.’”
Walton also joked about his reputation as a boisterous, scattershot speaker:
“My wife, she always tells me that my mind is like a slot machine, where the wheels are turning all the time. You never know where it’s going to end up.”
Walton closed by calling on those in attendance to make a difference in the world:
“Make a difference. Walk like a giant in the land. This DOES matter. Come on, hold people to higher standards. If you don’t like what you see, say something! What are they gonna say? ‘You’re wrong?’ You’re not wrong for what you think. You’re entitled to your own beliefs. Come on, let’s go! Get in the game of life. Build it! Build more libraries! Chase it down! Write more books! Stand up there, bring our troops home, let’s go.”