An NBA sports star and cultural icon discusses his catastrophic spinal collapse in 2007, the excruciating pain he suffered and his slow recovery, as well as his childhood, sports career, and the political and cultural upheaval of the 1960s.
Former NBA player and now broadcaster, Bill Walton, plays the drums with the University of Utah band before the game between the Arizona Wildcats and the Utah Utes on February 27, 2016.
Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images
Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.
Excerpt: Back From The Dead
Back from the Dead
One Way or Another This Darkness Got to Give
Summer 2009, San Diego
I can’t do this anymore. It’s just too hard. It hurts too much. Why should I continue? What’s the point in going on? I have been down so long now, I have no idea which way anywhere is anymore. There’s no reason to believe that tomorrow is going to be any better.
If I had a gun, I would use it.
The light has gone out of my life, and there’s no sound, either. Not even in my spirit and soul, where at least there has always been music.
I have been living on the floor for most of the last two and a half years, unable to move, unable to get up. I’ve cut myself off from Jerry, Bob, Neil, and the rest, just as I’ve disconnected from most everybody and everything else. The only people I see, talk to, or hear from are the few who refuse to leave me alone—my wife, Lori; my brother Bruce; our four sons; the most obstinate of my closest friends, like Andy Hill, Jim Gray, my guys in the Grateful Dead—and the one person I refuse to leave alone, John Wooden, now almost one hundred years old. Everybody else has been turned away. My mom doesn’t even know about any of this. She only gets the good news.
Lori always says my mind is like a slot machine: you never know how the spinning wheels are going to align.
The wheel is turning and you can’t slow down,
You can’t let go, and you can’t hold on,
You can’t go back, and you can’t stand still,
If the thunder don’t get you, then the lightning will.
I’ve lived with pain for most of my life, but pain has never been my entire life. It’s in my spine now, and radiating everywhere from it. It has taken me down like never before. And it just won’t let me be.
What to some is pain, to me is really just fatigue. I love and live for that fatigue and the soreness that comes with it, when you’ve pushed yourself relentlessly up and over another long, hard climb—the longer and harder the better—and met the toughest challenges imaginable, fighting against gravity and exhaustion, even when one more push seems impossible, until you reach the top, and the destination of euphoria, and you throw your arms over your head in a wild explosion of ecstasy and celebration—a high-altitude climax that you’re sure will last forever. There is nothing like it.
But this time is different—real different.
I was inspired early on by George Bernard Shaw, who challenged us all, as we approach the scrap heap of life, to become “a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”
That’s the way it has always gone for me, as a young boy growing up in San Diego, chasing my basketball dreams at UCLA, then Portland, with my hometown Clippers, and finally in Boston. It was more of the same later on, out on the broadcasting and business road for more than twenty years. It’s why I’ve gone to more than 859 Grateful Dead shows. It’s really all been one show that never ends. It’s also why, when I’m not at a Dead show, or not involved with basketball or business, I am at my happiest and best when riding high, up on my bike, dripping and soaking with sweat under the hot, burning sun, turning the crank and pushing the wheel endlessly over, time after time after time. Mile after countless mile across the warm, dry desert, along the twisting, jagged coast, or winding up a mou