Bill and Lori Walton’s San Diego home didn’t look all that different from the others in their well-landscaped residential neighborhood near Balboa Park. But from the inside, well, picture an archaeologist’s library, crowded but not cluttered, filled with artifacts of a life well lived. And imagine that this particular archaeologist had dedicated himself to the study of two very different rock ’n’ roll greats: The Grateful Dead and UCLA basketball.

It was 2018, and I was there to interview Bill for this magazine, a dream assignment for any lifelong Bruin (or Deadhead). As it happens, I’m both. Before I switched on the recorder, I got the chance to look around and I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone else had a complete Mickey Hart drum set assembled in their living room. Mickey, of course, was half of the Dead’s formidable percussive force known as the Rhythm Devils.

What I remember most, though, were the countless photos of Jerry Garcia and John Wooden on the walls in every room. A handful were familiar, but most looked like they were Bill’s personal photographs. He’d likely have said that they were, to him, family photos.

Dominic DiSaia

To an outsider, the pairing of John Wooden and Jerry Garcia as heroes would have appeared to make no sense — but it makes perfect sense when contemplating the life of Bill Walton. Because Bill seemed to exist at the intersection of Coach Wooden’s meticulous attention to detail and rocker Garcia’s improvisational jazzy impulses, exemplifying their shared belief in teamwork.

Jerry Garcia and Coach Wooden shared another quality with Bill: an unyielding quest for excellence.

During our interview, Bill said that when his children were young, he insisted that they watch Chicago Bulls games with him on television because Michael Jordan was playing. “I would make a point of saying, ‘We’re watching this. You’re going to watch perfection. You’re going to watch the personification of excellence. Don’t ever settle. UCLA instilled in me that standard of excellence, and don’t ever back away from that. Don’t ever apologize for a standard of excellence,’” he told me.

What followed was my favorite anecdote from the whole interview. It was something I wished I could have included in the original version of the article.

“On the nights that Michael didn’t play,” Bill said, “we always had book-and-tea night right here in this room. It’d be in the wintertime. We’d have a fire going and we’d just sit around. Everybody would read a book and drink tea, and the kids hated that. They hated book-and-tea night.

“I’ll call them up these days — and they have their children growing up — and they say, ‘Dad, Dad. I can’t talk right now. We’re having book-and-tea night.’”

Read more from UCLA Magazine’s Summer 2024 issue.