“I’m a San Diegan. I’m a Californian,” says National Basketball Association great Bill Walton, whose passion for his hometown and the Golden State knows no bounds. A member of two national championship teams at UCLA and winner of two NBA titles during a professional career that also included the 1978 Most Valuable Player award, Walton overcame injuries and adversity to earn a spot on the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team. Always known as the consummate team player, Walton is now trying to give back to the community that he loves during an unprecedented crisis. “I believe tomorrow is worth fighting for,” he says.
Walton recently shared his shelter-in-place experiences with California Now, with plenty of shout-outs to his favorite spots in San Diego.
Where are you self-quarantining and who are you with?
I’m with my wife Lori in our San Diego house along the northern edge of Balboa Park. We’ve been in this home for 41 years now. I was born in San Diego 67 years ago and I traveled the world and stayed in other places, but San Diego has always been home. I love San Diego—this is the greatest place on Earth. It’s a welcoming city with dizzying possibilities and anything and everything that you could want.
How are you passing the time during the crisis?
I’m busier than I’ve ever been. Ever. We are constantly trying to help lift the burden and ease the pain of COVID-19, the single most daunting, fearsome, challenging opponent that I have ever faced. We’re raising consciousness, awareness, and resources for the people who are in trouble. There’s a health crisis, there’s a food crisis, there’s an employment crisis, and there’s an economic crisis. It has all come to the front and the Earth is weeping, the Earth is broken and we have to do everything we can to fix it.
People need to eat, so we are working with Feeding America, Feeding San Diego, and Father Joe’s Villages. We also work with Champions For Health, who are the frontline volunteer healthcare professionals: doctors, nurses, and social workers. Volunteers who go to the hotspots and jump right in to risk everything. And then we’re trying to get the equipment that the healthcare professionals need. Imagine going to a basketball game and there’s no ball. That’s the challenge these doctors and nurses are facing.
What are you doing to stay connected with friends and family?
My mom is 93 years young and she’s still living in the same house we all grew up in. They moved there when I was born. We have six children and 14 grandchildren. But Lori and I are strict adherents to every guideline because we know full well that health is everything. We stay in touch with everyone, but we’re in the virtual community now. Family first and then all of the business associations I have going on. I have become expert at Zoom, Skype, Facetime, Instagram Live, and whatever else that’s out there.
Have you been taking advantage of area restaurants that offer takeout and delivery? What are some go-to dishes?
Lori is the greatest cook in the world and we have a routine. But yes, there are restaurants we order from. Arrivederci in Hillcrest is where we get minestrone soup, the Calamari Caruso, and Gamberi Nostrani. Khyber Pass Zarparan is a fantastic Afghani restaurant with a salmon kabob. From North Italia in Fashion Valley, we order the roasted salmon and chicken pesto with squash noodles. And then there’s Pizza Nova, which is owned by Kelly Bowie, a great friend of ours and also a big Deadhead. We love the white bean minestrone, chipotle lime chicken salad, and the chicken tequila fettucine.
Are there any shows you’re watching or songs you’re listening to that transport you to favorite places in California?
Oh, there were so many tours scheduled for this summer! But how perfect that Bob Dylan has announced the release of a new album. I listen to music constantly, it’s such a part of my life. The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is put the shuffle on. I am amazed at how the shuffle knows just what I need, and all of the songs connect me to California. Every song has an incredible meaning and the array of artists that I listen to is very broad-based.
The other day the shuffle came up with "Peace Train" by Cat Stevens and so I’m on the peace train, man. Followed immediately by Steve Winwood and “Can’t Find My Way Home.” The amazing thing is how beautiful and appropriate the music is, how personal the music is. It can take you places that you can’t get to by yourself, take you on the trip of a lifetime.
But I’m really looking forward to being out there again. Being in the pit at a Grateful Dead show. Being in there with Neil Young or Bob Dylan. John Fogerty! Jimmy Cliff! Jackson Browne! The Rolling Stones or Eagles! Bruce Springsteen and Carlos Santana!
What are some other local haunts you can’t wait to visit once things return to normal?
Every place. It’s every place here. I have found that everywhere on Earth is beautiful when the weather is nice. But the weather in San Diego is always nice, the air in San Diego is so soft!
I have been riding my bike regularly late in the day because one of the things encouraged and allowed under the guidelines is to get outside and get moving. Where we live is the hub of the wheel in San Diego. You can go in any direction and it is spectacular. There’s the North County and west over to the beaches. Point Loma, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, La Jolla, Del Mar. Seventy miles of coastline and pristine beaches. You can go east to the beautiful foothills of La Mesa where I grew up. There are lakes in the foothills and the foothills lead into the mountains. Then the mountains cascade down and you have the desert. And the desert is just something, all of it so beautiful.
Is there a Golden State hotel or resort you’ve been dreaming about while sheltering in place?
We love Death Valley and always stay at the Inn at Death Valley, a favorite. But I want it all. What about the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park? Or La Casa del Zorro Resort near Anza-Borrego Desert State Park? I get to go to all of these remarkable resorts and they’re spectacular but it’s really about the people.
Looking elsewhere in California, where will your next road trip take you? Any places you want to get back to?
I want to go back to all of them! Our house is a shrine to the greatness of California. My dad’s a native and my mom got here in 1940. When I was a child, my dad took us everywhere. My dad loved California, he loved the outdoors. My dad took me on these phenomenal summertime trips around California, camping trips, but we also did day trips for hikes in the backcountry of San Diego and into the mountains. From the Mexican border all the way up to Riverside County. Just spectacular, spectacular. Beautiful. Empty the thesaurus, whatever words you could come up with, man.
Imagining a time when everything has reopened, how would your California dream day unfold?
I’m a dreamer. I’m constantly dreaming about what’s next. I dream about lots of things. I try to learn from yesterday, dream about tomorrow, but live today. I’m a product of Coach Wooden. He said to make each day your masterpiece. What you’re doing, who you’re doing it with, where you’re doing it. Maybe most important, why you’re doing it—the purpose. One of the things about describing what I would say is my perfect day today, is that it would be different tomorrow. Because we’re lucky. We live in the promised land.