Bill Walton rides the bus to Corvallis
Published: Friday, January 11, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 15, 2013 16:02
Bill Walton said he can’t remember the last time he visited the state of Oregon.
Today, he returns.
Walton begins a two-month long Pac-12 campus tour today with visits to the University of Oregon and Oregon State University. He will visit seven more Pac-12 schools from now until March 6.
“I’m thrilled to be coming back,” Walton said.
The name Bill Walton may not have the same celebrity buzz with the generation currently attending Oregon State, but Walton is considered to be one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
If there is a state in the union that still views the 60-year-old, who stands at 6-foot-11, as an icon, it’s Oregon.
Walton was a part of the 1976-77 Portland Trailblazers, the only Portland team to win the NBA title in franchise history.
Walton forever cherishes the fond memories of living in this state.
“Oregon means everything to me,” Walton said. “Oregon is where I got my first chance as a professional, although I was not professional enough. I just really wish it could have lasted forever. It was such a wonderful time. The people there are so intriguing, so interesting, so kind, so inspirational.”
He was only in Portland for five years before signing with the San Diego Clippers.
Although it has been many years since Walton has been in Oregon, the state has never left him.
“One of the great things about the long, strange trip that is my life is that wherever I go, when I run into the great people from the state of Oregon, they always look at me with that special sense of pride,” Walton said. “They always say, ‘I was there. I saw that. I saw something really, really special.’”
The Pac-12 campus tour is a reflection on Walton’s love of college, and of the Pac-12 conference. It was the Pac-8 when he was the Naismith College Player of the Year and a three-time All-American as part of John Wooden’s UCLA dynasty in the 1970s.
“I loved going to college,” he said. “I couldn’t believe when I had to leave.”
Walton will be giving his speech at the International Forum in Snell Hall from 2-3 p.m., and will hold a question and answer session as well.
“Bill is very, very passionate about education,” said Kirk Reynolds, vice president of communications for the Pac-12. “He just appreciates everything that college gave to him and where it led him in his life.”
His excitement to speak at Oregon State and the other Pac-12 campuses is obvious when he talked about the upcoming event.
“To be able to come and speak at the school, spend time with the best and the brightest, and the future, I love it,” Walton said.
And the former college and NBA great isn’t the only basketball player eager for Walton’s appearance in Corvallis.
“I would love to go talk to him and see what he has to say,” said Roberto Nelson, junior guard on the OSU men’s basketball team. “I am excited, really excited. If I get the chance to meet him, I will be more than happy.”
Nelson’s coach, Craig Robinson, said he became a Bill Walton fan when he watched him play for the Blazers against his favorite team growing up, the Chicago Bulls.
“It’s nice, as a sort of transplanted Oregonian, to have him back,” Robinson said.
The team is hoping to arrange a time to briefly meet and talk with Walton.
“Most of these guys are too young to really appreciate it,” Robinson said. “But the fact that he played on so many good championship teams throughout his career, it’s always good to have your players exposed to that kind of winning, that kind of leadership.”
That leadership, and Walton’s charisma are what will make this event engaging for all.
“He’s very entertaining — as folks can plainly see — based on his personality in his telecasts,” Reynolds said. “He wants to make it a fun event.”
Whether someone is a diehard basketball fan, or has never watched a game in his or her life, Walton wants everyone to come. For him, this tour is about education and building a life for the youth in the world.
“We’re going to talk about every subject there is,” Walton said. “There are no limits. And we’re going to drift and dream all afternoon. The only thing that we ask is that you’re on time and that you come with an open mind and a caring soul.”
It’s only fitting for Walton’s Pac-12 tour to begin in the state that immortalized him.
“I’m coming on the magic bus all the way to Corvallis Friday afternoon,” Walton said.
And he still never shies away from using the colorful language he has always been known for.
“It was driver Bill on a bus to never-ever land. Here we go, enjoy the ride.”