Wit and wisdom of Bill Walton

If you missed the speech by Bill Walton at The Packer’s West Coast Produce Expo, you missed quite a lot.

He spoke for about 70 minutes, telling stories from his life and seeking to impart some of the talking points that he learned from UCLA coach John Wooden.

Walton also appeared at the reception the night before his May 10 keynote and stayed around to meet and greet after he talked.

Opening his speech, he flattered the crowd in a sly pun.

“Farm Journal media, the West Coast Produce Expo - where the big deals, the big players, the big money all come together — and I realized that I’ve wasted the first 66 years of my life.”

Walton’s would-be produce career that never was could not have matched the legend of his Hall of Fame status on the hardwoods.

His was a basketball life, winning two national titles and three Most Valuable Player awards in college and two NBA championships. 

Insisting he was born on “third base,” he said his near 7-foot frame, intelligence, strong family and natural abilities propelled him to the top of the game he loves.

“One of the great things about my life is that I was able to find basketball when I was eight years old. And basketball became my religion and the gym was my church, it was absolutely spectacular because basketball is the most perfect game of all. It’s very much like drinking tequila, all you really have to do is wait for the opening tip —like the opening sip of the bottle of tequila —  and you’re on your way. And there’s nothing that anybody can do to stop you,” Walton said.

He jabbed at other pro sports.

“And so basketball, unlike football, which is basically a halfway house between the Army and prison, and then baseball, which is a bunch of out-of-shape guys standing around scratching themselves, taking steroids and waiting for the game of life to come to them,” he said.

And then there’s the sport with the ball and the hoop.

“Basketball - it is who can play, who’s got a game who’s in shape and who really wants this.”

Walton got his digs in at Notre Dame - the team that snapped UCLA’s 88-game winning streak on Jan. 19 1974 — “not that I remember the day,” Walton said.

Walton had plenty of other stories from his playing days and perhaps drew mostly on how he learned from the pain of his failures and multiple injuries rather than his peak experiences.

In rapid-fire fashion, Walton repeated the structure of Coach Wooden’s pyramid of success, built on 15 human values and personal characteristics: Industriousness, enthusiasm, friendship, loyalty, cooperation, attentiveness, initiative, alertness, self control, physical fitness, skill development, commitment to the team, poise, confidence, competitive greatness. And floating above the pyramid, Wooden put the clouds of faith and patience.

We should all cling to all of those pyramid values if we are to climb — or climb again — our own pyramid of success.

Walton, who said he is living “Bill Walton 19.0” and in the transition to version 20.0, is someone who can speak from experience.