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Tracking COVID-19 at UCLA

Grateful Dead show gratitude to Bill Walton

By Daily Bruin Staff

Aug. 19, 2001 9:00 p.m.

  Daily Bruin File Photo Bill Walton slam
dunks against UNLV during his freshman year in 1972.

By Jackie Abellada
Daily Bruin Contributor

He looks like a typical announcer with a clean-cut look, donning
what appears to be a custom-made tailored suit. But to capture the
real Bill, picture a big, bushy redhead sporting a multi-colored
headband with a tie-dyed shirt to match.

On June 21, former UCLA basketball great Bill Walton became the
first-ever inductee into the Grateful Dead Hall of Honor.

“It is as great of an honor as I have ever
received,” Walton said. “The Grateful Dead is one of
the most important institutions in the history of western
civilization and to be the inaugural member of its Hall of Honor is
just an incredible privilege.”

At UCLA, Walton was named College Player of the Year for three
consecutive seasons from 1972-1974, while also earning Academic
All-American honors. He led the Bruins to an amazing 86-4 run
during his stay, which included two national championships
(’72-’73). In the NBA, he led the Portland Trailblazers
to the NBA Championship in 1977 and was a valuable member of the
Boston Celtics during their run to the top in 1986. In 1996, he was
selected by the NBA as one of the 50 greatest player of all
time.

  Photo courtesy of Lori Walton Bill
Walton
(far right) converses with the Grateful Dead
backstage at Shoreline.

With his 7-foot-plus stature, Walton is easily the most
recognizable Deadhead around.

“I remember the first time I saw him,” said Bob
Weir, the Dead’s rhythm guitarist. “We were playing in
Portland. And the audience was on its feet and there was one guy
head and shoulders above the rest of the audience. And I thought
upon looking out there that everybody was sitting down but this one
freak.”

The Dead, which originated in San Francisco, grew in popularity
in the 1960s when members participated in Ken Kesey’s Acid
Tests. Since then, they have been associated with the Acid Rock
genre and hippie culture.

Often, Walton’s fanaticism with the Dead harmonized with
his academic and professional career. He considers them among his
greatest teachers. From the band, he learned that the principles of
creativity and freedom can coincide with organization and
discipline.

Walton tried to get his teammates involved, inviting them to
performances and bringing the Dead’s music to their
practices.

“Bill would always try to get me to go (to Grateful Dead
events),” said John Wooden, UCLA basketball head coach from
1948-1975. “But I never went ““ that type of music
didn’t appeal to me that much. I tried to get him to go to a
Lawrence Welk concert. And, no, he wouldn’t do
that.”

Over the years, Walton and the Dead have developed an
extraordinary friendship. Since the 1960s, he has attended over 600
concerts and continues to frequent events performed by the
remaining members. While touring in the Egyptian desert with the
band, Walton had a Deadhead’s biggest dream come true: he got
to jam with his favorite band on stage in front of a live
audience.

Walton is currently an active member of the Rex Foundation,
which was originally founded by the Dead. It is a charitable
association that provides money and support to other organizations
and individuals who are focusing on social, environmental and
artistic efforts.

The Hall of Honor is selling commemorative T-shirts and posters
of the event, including some autographed by Walton. All proceeds
will be given to the Rex Foundation.

Sandy Sohcot, the Rex Foundation’s executive director,
praises Walton’s devotion to raising money for such worthy
causes. While still pursuing his career in sports broadcasting,
Walton still finds time to promote the foundation.

“(Walton) is a real hall-of-famer,” added Weir.
“You know one when you meet one and he’s the real
thing.”

With reports by Scott Schultz, Daily Bruin Senior Staff.

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