"They asked me today to not pour beer on anyone's head," Bill Walton told a scrum of reporters outside Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Aug. 25. "I'll do my best."
The 1977 NBA Finals MVP had returned to Portland to lead a procession of cyclists across the Broadway Bridge and into Terry Schrunk Plaza for a special announcement related to the Trail Blazers' upcoming 50th anniversary season. He kept his promise, but it was such a gorgeous day that a spontaneous soaking would've been justified.
The event came together quickly, in just the last few days, and it was honestly bizarre how nice and pleasant a scene of city life you were stuck in. There were booths set up around the Rose Quarter, a basketball hoop and hundreds of people just milling around in Blazers shirts—the tie-dyed Trillblazin Deadhead t-shirt was a hot ticket item—getting autographs with Walton and shooting hoops. All the stress and anxiety of modern Portland was seemingly put on hold for two hours, replaced by weirdly utopian sports joy.
Walton took the microphone and told everyone to stay safe, and the ride went off toward Schrunk Plaza, following the path of the Blazers' first championship parade.
When everyone arrived at the final destination, Blazers play-by-play legend Bill Schonely and Walton gave speeches—Schonley remembering the '77 squad, Walton spending his time mostly complimenting Portland's bike infrastructure—then revealed the Blazers' new alternate jersey for the upcoming season, a handsome recreation of the team's championship kit. Then, right there in the middle of downtown Portland, a surprisingly good Grateful Dead cover band played, with Walton joining them on congas.
For a second, the '70s were back. The Blazers were gonna win the title, Jerry Garcia was laying down some prime licks, the economy was dive-bombing into a recession and the president was about to get impeached.
Before snapping back to reality, WW got a few brief words with Walton—perhaps the most quotable man in sports—to ask about his favorite Oregon bike rides, and that time his bike got stolen during the championship parade.
All photos by Corbin Smith.
Bill Walton on cycling:
"Bicycling, to me, it's freedom, it's independence. It's empowering, it's enabling, and it allows me to get to places that I can't get to on my own. The bicycle is the greatest machine ever invented, and I love my bike and to see what the City of Portland has become with its commitment to cycling. To see all the people out there riding and to see the cars being respectful and kind and courteous—wow! Incredible. Yes, the dreams, they do come true."
Bill Walton on losing his bicycle the day of the championship parade:
"I rode my bike to the championship parade, and I came down from Northwest Portland. We lived on Kearney Street, just west of 23rd Street, and I came down my on my regular route to the coliseum. I didn't really know where I was going, but there were so many people—it was very much like showing up at a Grateful Dead concert, where there was just more and more and more people. I got there, wherever 'there' was, and all of a sudden, my bike was going one way and I was going the other direction. Then I got to the end of the parade route and we had all of the ceremonies and everything, and then it dawned on me that I didn't have a way home. And so, I asked the people of Portland to please get me my bike back. And they did. I kept it for years and years and rode it for years, and then we gave it to our oldest son and he rode it for years and years. I hope he still has it."
Bill Walton on how often he rides:
"I don't want to say how many miles I ride, because then [Walton's wife] Lori would find out. I'm a solo rider and I get out there and I just love the solitude and the sounds of nature and the wonder of the scenery and everything. But I'm thinking all the time, writing speeches and creating stories and coming up with new ideas, and when I come home from my bike ride, I'm all fired up. You ride your bike all day, you come back and you are just charged and ready for everything. And I come in and I always say to her, 'I got an idea.' And she says, 'Oh, great.' And then she says, 'Just remember, big boy, I was not part of that nine-hour one way conversation you just had.'"
Bill Walton on his favorite places to ride in Oregon:
"I would ride everywhere in Oregon. This is such a beautiful state. and I wish that I had more time in my life. A year ago, we took one of the great bike rides of all-time—10 days and 1,000 miles in Eastern Oregon and Central Oregon. It was just spectacular, and I just wish that I had 10 more days right now to just keep going on my bike, riding from here to the plaza, celebrate with all the Blazermaniacs, and then just ride off and just keep going and never come back—but be back in time for the start of the season, of course."