Celebrating Bill Walton: A Giant for Justice

in Culture

Bill Walton’s widespread impact on so many people in so many corners of life was evidenced by the universal outpouring of despondent grief and fond remembrance after the legendary college and pro center, innovative live sports broadcaster and emblematic Deadhead, truly one of the most unique Americans to have ever lived, sadly succumbed to colon cancer on May 27 at age 71. 

Bill was renowned for a myriad of accomplishments, but perhaps most impressive of all was his progressive stance against perceived social injustices, including America’s greatest military folly, the Vietnam War. Bill was arrested during a 1972 war protest on the campus of UCLA, the prestigious public college where Walton happened to be the nation’s finest basketball player for the dynastic Bruins hoops squad. 

In an ESPN Classic Sports Century documentary, Walton admitted, “One of the saddest days for Coach Wooden was the day he had to bail me out of jail after I got arrested in an anti-Vietnam (War) protest.”  

UCLA Coach John Wooden was the highly successful–but extremely conservative–”Wizard of Westwood” who guided the Bruins to ten NCAA championships (two of which were won with Walton). 

As Bill recalled, his coach acknowledged Walton’s political conviction in his response: “(Wooden) said to me, “Bill, I know you feel very strongly about this, but I just don’t think you getting arrested and taking part in this demonstration is what it’s all about.”

Walton shifted from protesting to writing a letter to then-U.S. President Richard Nixon, demanding Nixon resign from office! (Nixon did actually resign in 1974, in the wake of the Watergate scandal).  

Walton’s participation in the protest that resulted in his arrest was even more impressively selfless when you consider he himself was at no risk of being drafted, as due to …

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Author: Mark Miller / High Times

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