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Bill Walton Talks Cal Basketball, UCLA, The Grateful Dead & More

I sat down with Bill Walton after the Cal vs. UCLA game and talked on a variety of subjects, including the dominant first half performance by the Bears, the troubles of the Bruins, and everything Grateful Dead.

Bill Walton going one-on-one with Lindsay Brauner!
Bill Walton going one-on-one with Lindsay Brauner!
Lisa Rosen

Production & equipment provided by CalTV.

(Before the interview, I told Bill I was going to ask him about the Grateful Dead, and how he sees parallels between their music and the realm of athletics.)

Lindsay: Bill, thanks for joining us!

Bill: What a game, Haas Pavilion! Lindsay, it's great to see you again. But what a fantastic display of passion from the Cal Bears tonight. As a basketball fan, you can only ask yourself, why can't they play like that every game? The crowd in here was just dynamic, it was fantastic.

It's like being at a Dead show. And these fans behind us were just so enthusiastic. One of the great things about being at a Dead show is the anticipation. Anticipation is really another word for innovation. Getting to what's next, all the things that you learn in college, and all the things that you come to college for.

It is unbelievable because I'm from California, I went to UCLA, my dad went to Berkeley, here, but when I was growing up, nobody, nobody ever told me that they had cute girls here in Berkeley.

Lindsay: We have some cute girls here!

Bill: Well, I can see that! I may look stupid, but... But what a fantastic night! If you're a Bear fan. But if you're a Bruin fan-- I'm a Bruin alum-- disappointing-it was frustrating. They just got pummeled. It was not a good sign for the Bruins. They came into this game riding a two-game winning streak. They had the game-winner against Washington right at the buzzer, and Washington State, they always take care of them! But we can tell that the Bruins are in a staggeringly depressing state-just that funk that they were in. They looked like they were climbing and crawling their way out, but tonight-Papa Bear-Baby Bear-Papa Bear came in and said, "That court is mine!" and just took it. To see what the Bears did, and to see so many players-the second half was inconsequential.

What we saw tonight in the first half-that was the best basketball any team has played in the entire conference all season long-with the possible exception of the UCLA win at Arizona.

Lindsay: That's high praise!

Lindsay: How was playing for UCLA when you were there? Can you talk to me about what you learned from John Wooden?

Bill: We learned how to learn, how to think, how to compete. He taught us how to build; how to create a life for yourself.

John Wooden was just like Jerry Garcia. He was a selfless, thoughtful, caring, giving, loving, happy man. Jerry, John Wooden, (they were) ultimate team guys, all about the squad. With Jerry and John, there was no thought of this being about "stuff," no thought of it being about them. They knew that as the leader, they had responsibilities, they had duties, and they had the burden, the burden of putting on the big show.

Tonight was a classic example of how it all boils down to a team, because it wasn't just Allen Crabbe. It was Cobbs, it was Kravish, it was Solomon, it was the bench. This was a total dismantling of the UCLA Bruins by the entire Cal squad. It was truly remarkable. But that sense of the leader-we learn that same thing with the band-from Jerry Garcia, from the UCLA basketball team and the lifetime of John Wooden-we saw here tonight that coming together as a team.

But so many years, coming here to Berkeley-all the shows we saw at the Greek Theater, all the shows we saw at the Keystone-is the Keystone still there on University Avenue?

Lindsay: I don't think so.

Bill: Oh man, that was a rockin' place! Jerry would start playing there at 11 o'clock at night. But the Grateful Dead played more than thirty times at the Greek Theater. The last time they played there was '89, and it just got too big for the untenable parking situation. And that's really the way it was for UCLA basketball. Is parking a problem here?

Lindsay: Parking is definitely a problem.

Bill: Oh my gosh. I needed my bike to get around. I loved my bike! And this is such a great biking city.

But what I loved about tonight's game was the enthusiasm of the fans. They were ready to go! And the Bears played like it at the beginning, and the Bruins-they had no response.

Lindsay: As a former NBA all-star and UCLA Bruin, are there any guys at the Division 1 level or NBA level who remind you of yourself?

Bill: I don't really look at it that way. I love team basketball. I love fast-break basketball. I love a well-organized, fluid, determined, purposeful, passionate team. And the two teams that I have the most respect, admiration, and joy for in college basketball right now are Duke and Indiana. And there are other really good teams out there. In no particular order, Florida is playing really well, Kansas is a good team, Michigan State is doing a good job, Syracuse has got a ton of players, Miami is playing great basketball right now. And they're all big, tough teams. They have guys who dominate the floor. And that's the challenge for Pac-12 right now. We've got Allen Crabbe, who's the leading scorer in the conference, guys up in Washington-Wilcox, he's hurt right now, Oregon, UCLA, a work in progress, Arizona State and USC are trying to come alive-some surprising stories there.

But California is the place to be. Pac-12 is the place to be. As I go around this great conference, and see all the fantastic people, I'm just so privileged and honored and humbled to be a part of something so fantastic. I don't know about you, but nobody is calling me up with the news of, "Gosh, I'm so lucky, I'm moving to the Midwest!" or "Gosh, I can't wait, I'm moving to the South!" No!

Lindsay: No one calls me up saying that either.

Bill: No! It's California, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Arizona, Colorado! The conference tournament is in Las Vegas. This is the cool place to be. But the players, coaches, everybody, the communities, we have to come together more and watch these other games around the country. What we saw tonight with this fantastic crowd, fantastic performance, we need that every night, every game. Consistency, a saleable product, sustainability- make it happen. We witnessed history tonight-this game of the millennium.

Lindsay: Bill, you have so many adoring fans waiting behind us.

Bill: Thanks for having me, we'll see you soon!