While his playing career ended more than 30 years ago, Bill Walton is still a beloved figure in the basketball community. On the court, the big man had incredible talent; off the court, his personality is larger than life. The gentle giant, however, has gotten into some trouble in his life.
During his time at UCLA, the mild-mannered Walton was actually arrested. He then needed none other than John Wooden, the Bruins’ legendary basketball coach, to come bail him out of jail.
Bill Walton’s time at UCLA
Growing up in California, Bill Walton was shy and soft-spoken. Despite some initial hesitance to take the court, he developed into a serial winner.
After overcoming some early injuries, Walton turned into a dominant high school player. He led his team to 49 consecutive victories and two California Interscholastic Federation titles; unsurprisingly, colleges started to take notice. When UCLA came calling, however, the life-long Bruins fan’s fate was sealed.
After spending his first year on the freshman basketball team, Walton joined the varsity squad; unsurprisingly, he made an immediate impact. The Bruins cruised to a National title in 1972, with Walton taking home NCAA Basketball Tournament Most Outstanding Player honors. They would repeat the feat the following year, with Walton potting a record-setting 44 points and once again claiming the Most Outstanding player title.
While things started to unravel during Walton’s senior season, he was still an incredibly dominant college player. During three years with the UCLA varsity squad, the big man averaged 20.3 points and 15.7 rebounds per game; he took home two National Championships, two Most Outstanding Player awards, and didn’t lose a single game until his final campaign.
Bailed out by John Wooden
While Bill Walton may have been a shy child, he developed an incredibly strong belief in his personal convictions. At UCLA, those beliefs led to his arrest.
In 1974, Walton was among the group of protestors who laid down in the middle Wilshire Boulevard in protest against the Vietnam War. Unsurprisingly, the police showed up and arrested the group, Walton included.
Eventually, John Wooden, UCLA’s legendary basketball coach, came to the rescue and bailed his big man out of jail. Fulfilling his role as the team’s father figure, Wooden was clearly disappointed.
“When Wooden arrived to bail him out of jail, Walton could see how disappointed his coach was in him,” Dick Weiss wrote after the coach’s death in 2010. “Walton defended his position by telling Wooden that a lot of his friends were coming home in body bags. ‘I’m against the war, too,’ Wooden said, ‘but protesting is not the right way.”
Bill Walton and John Wooden remained close, though
Despite that incident, John Wooden and Bill Walton didn’t have a falling out; for all their apparent differences, they formed an incredible bond. While the big man has expressed regret for “ruining” things at UCLA, he always considered Wooden a mentor, a friend, and, above all else, “Coach.”
In 1994, Walton and Wooden reunited in Washington, D.C, for Bill’s induction into the College Academic Hall of Fame. The center knew that his coach was an avid admirer of Abraham Lincoln, so he proposed taking a trip to the president’s memorial. Wooden, however, had another idea.
“Wooden told Walton he wanted to see the Vietnam Memorial, instead,” Weiss wrote. “He understood what that meant to his former player.”