Bill Walton is right up there with Bill Lee when it comes to the most iconoclastic professional athletes of all time. Both played in the '70s when rules were looser, but society was still pretty uptight. While Lee played for the Red Sox, he was fined $250 by Major League Baseball for saying he sprinkled pot on pancakes (though the pitcher never said he smoked it). Walton, who's the subject of a 30 for 30 documentary series on ESPN, never was fined by the NBA for his cannabis use, though in Ep. 2 he maintains his UCLA team lost the 1974 national championship game partially due to coach John Wooden's anti-marijuana policy.
The star center had already won two titles with the Bruins in 1972 and 1973. In the 1974 season, Wooden began his crackdown on pot by benching guard Craig Lee after admitting his use to the hardline coach. Unlike Lee, Walton denied the charge and kept playing. But without Lee, the team faltered, finally ending their 88-game winning streak and losing to North Carolina State in the title game. The previous year he scored 44 points in the title game.
Since Walton is considered the world's greatest Deadhead, the series features a Grateful Dead soundtrack. Mickey Hart calls him "our tallest fan." Walton's often seen at Dead shows towering above everyone else in the crowd. A 6-11, he was a dominant NBA center, averaging 13.3 ppg, 10.5 rpg and 3.4 apg during 15 injury-plagued seasons. Walton led the Portland Trailblazers to their only league championship in 1977, also won the title with Boston in 1986 and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993.
With his long red hair and beard, headbands and hippie clothing, Walton proved to be a magnet for controversary during his college days and early years in the NBA. He even got caught up in the Patty Hearst case in 1975 when investigators thought Walton and his friends might have been harboring her and her kidnappers.
We also learn the hoopster ovecame a speech impediment to become a TV broadcaster and analyst.
Despite his nonconformist views, several times Walton insists, "I've always been mainstream," adding with a smile: "Depending on what stream you're standing in."
The frst two episodes of The Luckiest Guy in the World are available at ESPN On Demand. The last two of the four parts will air Tues., June 13 at 8 pm ET.