Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bill Walton's Got His Game Back

What a long strange trip it’s been, and to hear Bill Walton recount the adventure, he recites it in prose, as a poet from the beatnik era, with quotes from Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, Neil Young. What a long strange trip it’s been. From high school standout, to UCLA basketball star to MVP of the NBA, able to give that car to his father as he vowed he would as a kid. From the thrill of victory, to the agony of crippling back pain, not able to get out of bed, ready to throw in the towel, no desire for the next game, with thoughts of leaping from the fatal heights of San Diego’s Coronado bridge. Then, the miracle of surgery that stitched his back together, then mobility in a wheel chair, to a walker, to a cane, and now, playing the next game, helping amputees play sports, helping others get ready for their next game. Bill Walton’s got his game back. What a long strange trip it’s been. Can you believe he was a stutterer, and now as he speaks to the San Diego Software Industry Council, he warns it’s almost impossible to stop once he starts talking. The one thing that stops him this evening is a Grateful Dead reunion concert, which he will not miss, “Driving that train….”

Here are some takeaways from the evening’s talk. Walton invokes the teachings of John Wooden, including the pyramid of success (poise, confidence, condition, skill, team spirit, self-control, alertness, initiative, intentness, industriousness, friendship, loyalty, cooperation, enthusiasm) and "failing to have a plan is planning to fail." The importance of how you put on your socks (Wooden’s first lesson to new recruits to avoid blisters). The fundamentals of life, drilled into him from Wooden, and how those may have saved Walton when he needed something to hang on to. Wooden never had set plays; he never called timeout. He drilled, drilled, drilled, prepared, prepared, prepared, then let the young men play their game. (Lesson: If you’re a manager, train your people and let them do their job.) If you're not the biggest, think how you can use balance and quickness to your advantage. And last, the telephone calls from Walton’s closest friend during his dark times, with the reassuring message that “you can make it.” (Lesson: If you have a friend who’s down, calling is appreciated.) “The important things are health and family,” says Walton. “Everything else is just stuff.”

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