The Grateful Dead Hall of Honor
Salutes Bill Walton
The Grateful Dead are pleased to introduce the Hall of Honor, a new way to pay tribute to those who make our community and the world at large a better place, while raising funds for a variety of good causes.
It’s a safe bet that Bill Walton is the world’s most visible Deadhead – not just for his unmistakable physical appearance (it was hard to miss a 7-foot-plus redhead in a crowd at a Dead show!), but for the high public profile he has maintained for much of the last three decades, as the result of a career overflowing with remarkable accomplishments. He first rose to national prominence as the center and most dominant player on coach John Wooden’s great UCLA basketball squads of the early 70s, leading the Bruins to two national championships and being named NCAA Player of the Year in all three of his varsity seasons. The #1 pick in the NBA draft, Walton joined the Portland Trailblazers in 1974 and quickly became one of the premier players in the pro ranks. Walton led the Blazers to the NBA Championship in 1977 and was named Most Valuable Player in that year’s playoffs (as well as the league MVP for the 1978 season). Despite numerous debilitating injuries, Bill continued to play with courage, tenacity and brilliance, earning berths on multiple NBA all-star teams and making vital contributions to yet another NBA championship team, the 1986 Boston Celtics. Walton was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993, and in 1997 he was named one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players of all time. In the years since his retirement as a player, he has become one of the outstanding figures in the field of sports broadcasting, continuing to inform and inspire with his insightful, opinionated and highly entertaining commentaries during NBA games and other events.
Bill has always been the first to acknowledge the influential and inspirational role that the Grateful Dead has played in his life since his teenage years. ” They’ve been my life,” he says, ” since I first saw them in the late 60s, when I was in high school.” He numbers the Dead among the great teachers in his life, on a par with mentors like Coach Wooden, and believes that lessons learned from the band served him well in the pursuit of his goals as a basketball player: “Their inspiration drove me. They taught me the importance of delivering peak performances on demand, and to always play with a sense of joy and creativity.” As an athlete Walton felt a kinship with one of the central tenets of the Dead’s musical philosophy: that teamwork, cooperation and collective improvisation is more important than the virtuoso solo performance. ” The nicest thing anybody ever said about me was that I made my teammates play better. And that’s what the Grateful Dead was all about. They were just like a great basketball team… a group of outstanding individuals realizing that the strength of the team was the strength of the individual.” Bill compares the Dead to the very best players ever to take the floor in the NBA – “Michael Jordan. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson – all the great ones – you could set your calendar by them, and know that they were gonna deliver when it really mattered” – and also sees parallels in the levels of excitement at a Dead show and a championship-level game: “You can’t achieve it if the crowd isn’t there in front of you. When you listened to the Dead in soundcheck, or in the studio, it wasn’t the same as when you were there with all those other people. Feeling that anticipation, that surge, that glow… it was exactly like a basketball game. Every moment was completely new… You never know where freedom is going to take you… The great variables… The improvisation… The beautiful thing is the anticipation of what’s gonna happen next, and also the response to the unexpected, brilliant play.”
Bill Walton considers it a special honor to serve on the board of the Rex Foundation. Long a social activist, Bill cherishes this opportunity to pass on some of the inspiration he’s derived from his experiences among the Grateful Dead and the Deadhead community. “It’s given me my life,” he says. “The Grateful Dead were always about making the wildest dreams come true, and most of my dreams certainly have come true. People like me have the greatest life, and it’s my duty, my responsibility, my obligation, to help make other people’s dreams come true. The Rex Foundation has helped countless people to create better lives. I’m honored to be given the opportunity to make a difference, and to help make a better world.”
In acknowledgement of the countless contributions Bill Walton has made to our world, we are proud to induct him into the Grateful Dead Hall of Honor.
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Our friend Tim Truman (whose stunning graphic work is seen in tandem with Robert Hunter’s words in every Almanac) has created a wonderful piece of art honoring Bill Walton, which we are pleased to offer in various forms. Appropriately, all proceeds from the sale of the items shown here will benefit the Rex Foundation.