|Bill Walton 'sad' he couldn't help Seau|
By Nick Canepa, San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/7, 6:21 p.m. PT
Bill Walton literally crawled to the brink of suicide and somehow willed himself to step back. Junior Seau, for reasons we may never know and perhaps in a different kind of pain, stepped forward. And today Walton grieves for his friend, all but placing the blame for Junior’s death on himself, because he believes he could have helped.
Walton is being incredibly unfair to himself, but this is the Bill Walton I’ve known for so long — a brilliant and caring man, the basketball Hall of Famer who now spends his pain-free life helping and motivating others.
Because he was in that room, the same one Junior was in, and was able to find the door.
“I am sad, I am ashamed, I am embarrassed that I wasn’t there to tell Junior not to give up,” Walton says. “When I think of the tragic scenario of last week, I only wish I could have done more. I talk to people every day. You can make it. I spend a lot of time talking people back from the brink, from the end of the cliff. It’s a duty, a responsibility I have.
There is an alternative. I now know tomorrow is going to be better.
“I could never get from Junior that there was pain. He never portrayed that to me. I have failed Junior; I have let him down. But, oh, my gosh, I can tell you that people called me every day trying to help. I’d hang up on them. I didn’t want to talk. I turned my back on them. I know now there is a way out; a space. But on the outside, you never saw that something was different with Junior. Now he’s gone, and I am sad I didn’t help.”
In 2007, Walton went down with severe back pain. Before he had the miracle surgery in 2009, he was all but paralyzed and the pain was so fierce he saw no way out and seriously considered ending his life. How ironic it is that two of San Diego’s all-time greatest athletes and citizens contemplated suicide. Except Walton managed to escape.
“But I was right there,” he says. “If I had a gun, I would have used it. I was on the edge of the bridge, seeing if it was high enough and the ground was hard enough. The difference was that Junior wasn’t lying there helpless. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t bathe, I couldn’t walk; I couldn’t do anything.
“I can’t begin to re-create how bad it was and how bad it could have been.
I can’t comprehend it. First, you think you’re going to die. Second, you want to die. Third, you think you’re going to live. You see no way out. You go through so many different phases.
“But I am so lucky. I got all the way better. I have no pain. I take no medication. And before the surgery I had no idea what life could be like without back pain. But I pulled back from the edge. I started to get better and the pain slowly stated to subside. I was able to do things that created a positive foundation that created a life worth living. I’m the lucky one.
I got better.”
There has been so much speculation as to what caused Junior to take his own life. Like Walton, I believe it should cease. We can only guess, and guessing doesn’t work here. Bill may blame himself, but there were those, including spiritual advisers, much closer to Junior than Walton, and they say they never saw the signs. Junior was Junior up to the end.
“It’s a huge mistake, people speculating as to why,” Walton says. “I don’t know why. Blowhard gasbags say all this, about something so serious. The damage we can cause by jumping to conclusions. There’s a rush in the media now to be first, as opposed to being right.”
There is speculation Seau was depressed, that he had trouble handling life away from the game. He did retire more than once, but he certainly managed to keep himself busy after football.
“I tried to play until I had to crawl into the hospital and they fused my ankle,” Walton says. “I was done. Junior was still active, out there surfing, playing with kids. We have to create value out of nothing. I haven’t been able to play basketball for 26 years. I watch it. I still love it. Junior had so much left to give. Come on!
“When we leave our games we have to recreate; we have to reinvent. We are responsible to create our own life and our own fun. It’s a mistake when people say Junior couldn’t take being out of the limelight. Junior was in the limelight!”
Walton loved Junior for what he was, Junior. Not perfect, not without flaws, like everyone who has lived the past 2,000 years. Just Junior.
“This was one of our greatest athletes,” Bill says. “What he did on the field was unparalleled, but it paled in comparison to what he did off the field. He made people feel so fantastic. He made people happy.
“I played basketball against Junior and, my gosh, it was like I was going against (late Portland power forward and former teammate) Maurice Lucas that day. Maurice Lucas was the best teammate I ever had, and he had a fantastic saying when things went wrong: ‘I’ll take care of this.’ That’s how Junior was. He’d step up and say: ‘I’ll take care of this.” He was so special.’ ”
But, when Bill thinks of Junior, he can only grieve, that he believes he could have provided the antidote.
“I needed one more time.”
If there are better people than Bill Walton, it’s a short line.