There’s a YouTube montage of basketball commentator/former Celtic Bill Walton’s on-air antics — eating a lit birthday candle, playing a glockenspiel, stripping down to change tie-dye tees, rubbing dirt on his face, throwing popcorn. If you had no idea who Walton was, it’s a darn good introduction.
The French coined the term “joie de vivre” to describe characters like Walton. And when interviewing the Basketball Hall of Famer, you sit back and enjoy the ride. There are no pauses for questions (he apologizes for that). When you do ask, his answer may or may not relate — but what a beautiful stream of consciousness. His childhood. His basketball career. His lifelong love of the Grateful Dead.
The avid cyclist founded Bike for Humanity earlier this year, in the thick of the COVID-19 shutdown. The virtual ride aims to get people moving while raising money for various charities. Walton’s first virtual ride, in April, raised some $100,000. Now he’s teamed with Olympian/Boston Marathon winner Meb Keflezighi and ultramarathoner/author Dean Karnazes to host Bike for Humanity II July 25. It’s free to register. Participants can ride wherever they like. Donations are encouraged. All money goes to Free Bikes 4 Kidz, No Kid Hungry, and The Rex Foundation.
We reached Walton by phone at his San Diego home.
Q. Why did you decide to host Bike for Humanity II?
A. It was very reminiscent of the time in the early 2000s when we took a phenomenal raft trip down the Grand Canyon — 228 miles, 18 days, with members of the Grateful Dead family. We got to the end, looked at each other, and everybody was just so happy. We said, we gotta do this again. And we did — and it was even better the next time. So [that’s what we’re doing] with the addition of Dean and Meb — these guys are fantastic. The strength of the team is the strength of the individuals.
Q. How did you meet Meb?
A. Our paths crossed through events, ceremonies, sponsorships. We realized that he grew up next to where I live. And my life has changed since my spine failure of 11 years ago, and my involvement with trying to help people get going again [with] activity — that’s what makes my life whole. I found sports when I was 8 years old. My parents are the most unathletic people you’ve ever seen. The greatest parents ever, but zero interest in sports. I saw my dad running one time at the church picnic and fell over laughing.
Basketball was the easiest part of my life. My challenge has been orthopedic health. And the fact that I’m a life-long stutterer. I could not speak until I was 28 years old — my greatest accomplishment and your worst nightmare. I haven’t let you get any questions in. Sorry about that.
Q. [laughs] It’s OK.
A. I’ve had 38 orthopedic surgeries. Both my ankles are fused; I’ve got a replaced knee, a brand-new spine. But I’m doing great [now.] When you’re doing great, there’s a responsibility you have to make sure the rest of the team’s doing great, too. That’s the genesis for Bike for Humanity. I live in San Diego, and I was on the Boston Celtics, and I’m with Bikes for Humanity — I’m the luckiest guy in the world.
Q. How long have you been biking?
A. I started biking when I was 5 years old. My childhood was perfect. I had a basketball, a skateboard I built myself, and a bicycle from a police auction we got for $5. I was set.
Q. What do you love about biking now?
A. The same exact thing that I loved at 5. That bike will take me wherever I want to go. And it’s going to be super-fun. I’ll be outside in the sun and the wind and see the wonders of nature, and I’ll be smiling and happy. I love to ride my bike. I’m not a good rider. Some of the better cyclists have said about me, “Bill, I didn’t know it was possible to go that slow and still remain upright.”
I like to ride by myself. When I come home, I see my wife, Lori, and I say, “Man, I got a great new idea!” And she says, “Oh wonderful. Just remember, big boy, I was not a part of that hours-long one-way conversation you just had.” She’s got the patience of a saint. I’m the luckiest guy alive.
Register at https://bikeforhumanity.com/