RIP BILL WALTON: STRIDING INTO SPLINTERED SUNLIGHT

Look out of any window

Any morning, any evening, any day

Maybe the sun is shining

Birds are winging or rain is falling from a heavy sky

What do you want me to do

To do for you to see you through?

For this is all a dream we dreamed

One afternoon long ago

Walk out of any doorway

Feel your way, feel your way like the day before

Maybe you’ll find direction

Around some corner where it’s been waiting to meet you

What do you want me to do

To watch for you while you’re sleeping?

Then please don’t be surprised

When you find me dreaming too

Look into any eyes you find by you

You can see clear through to another day

Maybe it’s been seen before through other eyes

On other days while going home

What do you want me to do

To do for you to see you through?

It’s all a dream we dreamed

One afternoon long ago

(From “Box of Rain” written by Robert Hunter and performed by The Grateful Dead)

The devastating news was relayed to me by my friend Mike LaVigne, calling from Como Italy, where he’s on vacation. 

Bill Walton had died, on Memorial Day no less, and had only just texted with our friend Danny Shaughnessy on Friday.

Typical of Bill, he never let on that anything was wrong, no doubt, as a measure to spare his friends the worry and sadness.

Bill is now comparing notes with Coaches Wooden, Ramsey, and Jones while sharing a jar of Cucamonga honey with UCLA teammate 

Greg Lee, playing riffs with Jerry and Pigpen, planning to view tonight’s Celtics game with DJ, KC, Chris Ford, & Red, hugging his parents 

and blowing kisses to his family and legion of friends and fans.

Where to start with Bill Walton?

It was my privilege to have known him for nearly forty years and before that marvel at watching him play for UCLA in the glory days 

where Wooden’s teams were nothing less than an all-conquering sneaker-clad clad juggernaut.

In 1987 Bill was living in Cambridge and one Sunday, during the season, came down to the Harvard Coop, accompanied by his sons, 

to where The Sports Museum, was hosting a book signing with Larry Bird for his book, “Bird on Basketball.” Customers who bought his 

book and made a donation to the museum got a signature as well as a Polaroid photo with #33. Bill got wind of the proceedings and 

came unannounced to hang out with both his teammate and former opponent and friend Sports Museum chair Dave Cowens.

After a couple of hours (the line occupied nearly a full city block) Larry had to leave for a prior commitment and Bill, in his typically robust 

manner, informed everyone within earshot of his booming voice that he and Dave Cowens would remain and take Polaroids and sign 

autographs for every last fan. What ensued were several additional hours of laughter, conversation, and raucous goodwill.

Years later he supported the museum once again when he returned to serve as the presenter for his former coach KC Jones at our Tradition Gala. 

His 20-minute presenting speech was a remarkable survey that combined such topics as, the post-WWI African-American northern migration 

that included Jones family, Jones impeccable championship pedigree as a collegian, Olympian, and Pro, and most personally, 

Bill’s abiding love and respect for his former coach. It was a speech for the ages.

In 2006 I approached Bill prior to a luncheon celebrating the Celtic’s 60th anniversary. I’d brought all my duplicate Grateful Dead albums 

for him to sign for auctioning by The Sports Museum. As he signed the final sleeve I asked if he had a minute to answer a personal question.

He placed his hand on my shoulder and smiled and said, “Of course Richard.” I shared that I was a fellow stutterer and wanted to know 

what he’d done to conquer the affliction. He then lowered his voice, kept his hand on my shoulder and for 15 minutes relayed the advice 

the great Marty Glickman had given him when he was in his early twenties and desperately needed help to deal with the media demands 

of a young superstar. He concluded by asking for my email address while promising to send me the advice he’d received 

from Glickman. He also asked that I not hesitate to contact him if I needed further help.

I still consult Bill’s email.  It was as life-changing for me as it was for him. 

I’ll treasure the card I recently received from him that thanked me for a gift of a jar of Greek honey (from the island of Ikaria where “people forget to die”) 

and a cap with the embroidered skeleton symbol of the Irish city of Derry. Items I thought were perfect for a fellow Deadhead.

I can hear his distinctive cave-deep voice as I re-read his handwritten words.

Words penned by the hands of the best passing Big Man in basketball history. Words penned by one of the two best collegiate players (along with Kareem). 

Words penned by a Celtics champion and our eternally happy warrior. 

In Boston, our good fortune was that nobody enjoyed being a Celtic more than Walton.

As great an athlete and champion as he was he was an even better person.

He often described himself as the luckiest guy in the world.

Perhaps, but anyone who knew him shared that distinction while in his all-enveloping company.

He was Human Sunshine.

(Richard Johnson) 

About the Curator’s Corner

Richard Johnson’s “Curator’s Corner” is  where you will find videos featuring Richard and Sports Museum Executive Director, Rusty Sullivan, discussing Boston sports history, as well as blog posts written by Richard himself.

The dream call for any curator is one in which a donor not only offers a priceless artifact but also shares a wonderful story. Such was the case twenty years ago when a north shore woman called to offer the donation of the net in which Bobby Orr scored the most famous goal in Bruins and possibly hockey history.
On January 19, 1986, The Sports Museum mounted a benefit concert at Symphony Hall featuring rock and roll pioneers Bo Diddley and Roy Orbison as well as the Lite Beer All-Stars led by Celtics head coach KC Jones.