- Back from the Dead: Searching for the Sound, Shining the Light, and Throwing It Down by Bill Walton
Bill Walton’s autobiographical work is not a scholarly venture, but his intelligence (on display regularly as a television commentator for the Pac12 and ESPN) and insights into basketball make this an entertaining and thoughtful view of life, basketball, and music, mostly that of (but not limited to) the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan. Walton’s unique perspective as a player, both because of his training and his views on the games of life and basketball, make this volume thought-provoking, readable, and fun. Despite having no footnotes, he includes quotes from favorite ’60s- and ’70s-era songs at the beginning of each chapter and another eighteen within the text of a number of chapters. These are all credited in the back of the book, the only thing that resembles an index.
Walton’s story goes through his entire life, but the greatest game details are of his time as a professional with the Portland Trail Blazers, the San Diego Clippers (before the move to Los Angeles), and the Boston Celtics. The UCLA years are much more focused on college life, with a heavy dose of basketball, but not of the games as much, even when Walton has remarkable contests. He was NCAA Player of the Year all three of his varsity seasons, yet he not only does not dwell on that, he barely mentions it all. His self-effacement comes through in so many ways, and he is always crediting his teammates or mentors for his successes in basketball as well as broadcasting. This book has no ghost writer, so it is Walton’s work: intelligent, funny, and extremely insightful regarding UCLA basketball, John Wooden, and basketball generally.
Walton has his heroes, and at the top is Wooden, to whom Walton became so close that he called him almost every day for the last twenty-five years of the coach’s life. Jack Ramsey is an admired mentor, as well as is Walton’s father, who had little interest in sports but rather enjoyed music. Walton took that from his dad and learned to play many instruments and became a noted “Dead Head.” The band members were his friends and often visited his home. [End Page 132]
Player heroes who stand out are two teammates. Maurice Lucas was his best friend on the Blazers, and Walton portrays him as the leader of the team and a model of excellence and heart for his teammates. His premature death from bladder cancer, at just fifty-eight, in 2010, was devastating to Walton. The other hero is Larry Bird, his teammate on the Celtics from 1985 to 1987, although Walton was injured almost all of the 86–87 season, forcing him into retirement. Bird seemed superhuman to Walton, even better than his legend. He was in awe of Larry, despite Larry’s humility and friendship.
If there is an “antihero” in Walton’s view, it is Tommy Curtis, whom Wooden moved into the starting lineup during his senior year, displacing Walton’s good friend Greg Lee. After two 30–0 seasons, the Bruins went 26–4, losing to North Carolina State in the Final Four. Walton saw Lee as the key to the UCLA offense and Curtis as the “disrupter.” Walton still is agitated over the NC State loss and blames himself almost as much as Curtis.
Walton’s book is honest, insightful, and amusing. Despite little data, it’s a fun ride and provides a great view of one of the greatest players ever. [End Page 133]