Lots to do, lots to tell

Bill Walton's summer vacation was a lot like yours. Except for Springsteen and Santa Barbara and all that.

Updated: October 30, 2003, 9:34 AM ET
By Bill Walton | Special to ESPN.com

    Wait for the light to shine
    Wait for the light to shine
    Pull yourself together and keep looking for the sign
    Wait for the light to shine
    -- Words by Fred Rose; Performed by Bob Dylan

In case you might have missed it: Kobe Bryant was arrested this summer ...

The Gathering of Eagles began shortly after June 15, the close of yet another NBA Championship run. At the North edge of Balboa Park, San Diego, sons, friends, strangers, stragglers -- young people from around the globe -- descending on the oasis. Themes are always hotly debated as the activities pile on top of each other.

Bruce Springsteen
Walton was among those honoring the Boss in October at Shea Stadium.

Summer of Love ... Months of Music ... Who Wants Some of This? Finally, we settled on the Summer of Enrichment.

And while I spent the vast majority of my time in Church -- searching desperately for World Peace and Eternal Salvation -- I did find some time for just a few other special events: Mostly training for the X Games, trying to stave off another political coup and, ultimately, the never ending struggle to a return and recapturing of our true, core American values.

    When the road is rocky and you're carrying a heavy load
    Wait for the light to shine
    If you find you're friendless on that weary, lonesome road
    Wait for the light to shine

Imagine my shock and dismay when I woke up on the 4th of July weekend -- our most sacred of holidays, when our most cherished traditions and ideals are honored and remembered -- to discover that all I had come to believe to be true about fairness, hope, the shining beacon of safety and optimism, openness, forthrightness, truth and the team was now a shambles and that none of it was true. Some people don't like it when I talk about our current political leaders like that. But to say otherwise would be dishonest.

    Pull yourself together, keep waiting for the sign

Things started quickly, even though a thick marine layer of fog kept some people in Southern California under the weather far too long this summer. I went straight to the Steinway pianos that had laid unused and covered for so long now. Regular lessons with Dmitry on the selected artists of the summer: Schubert, Bach, Mozart and Rachmaninoff. Our youngest son, Chris, even started to take formal lessons -- supplementing his natural talents of playing by ear and memory.

Dinner with Roger Kahn at The University Club -- out on his book tour for the thoroughly enjoyable "October Men."

A charity fundraiser at the San Diego Hall of Champions with and for Hall of Famer George Yardley -- now struggling with ALS, Lou Gehrig's Disease.

Then the summer solstice, June 21 -- always a moment of glorious celebration. And as if on cue, the weather broke: in just 15 minutes that marine layer burned away and summer was now really here.

Things never slow down for long once inside the front door. This particular run was buoyed by the anticipation of our third son's dreams of making it to the promised land of the NBA. Luke spent all spring trying to work his way back onto the national stage after an injury plagued senior season at the University of Arizona. Juggling the NBA Pre-Draft tryout camp in Chicago with rehab and individual workouts around the country kept him so busy that he seemingly forgot about the time.

And then Draft Day was upon us: The uncertainty, the doubt, the nervous tension and apprehension was palpable. What to do? How would it all play out? Where would he go? Would he even get drafted?

Try telling a young man to calm down and take it as it comes, when all his dreams are on the line, in someone else's hands. Good luck.

Luke wanted a quiet day spent alone, unsure of himself. We told him we would be there for him, as a family, and that we hoped he would join us. Richard Jefferson called early that morning asking what was up. Richard could sense the importance and wavering confidence; he said he was coming over from Phoenix to be there for Luke.

3:55 p.m. Pacific Standard Time: The countdown had begun. Lori had put some food out in front of the TV. It was just the family -- Luke's brothers, David Abramowitz (his high school point guard) and Rudzo (Ram Rod and Frances' son).

3:58 p.m.: 2 minutes until The Draft. The ringing phone breaks the nerve-wracking silence. It's Richard. Trouble. He can't make it. Car problems. Security at the Phoenix Airport. No cash or ticket to get on the airplane.

Devastation. Desperation. RJ couldn't get there until 9 p.m. Could we call David Stern and get him to hold off?

Luke Walton
Luke Walton left Arizona for the Lakers, thanks to a stressful draft day.

The balloon was pricked, the air let out of the pending celebration. 10 ... 9 ... 8&.the final seconds ticking off.

Bam! The front door swings open wide and Richard bursts through! He had spoofed us from the cab on his way in from the airport.

The early picks are made, the pressure builds. Name after name. Team by team. And nothing, except learning that all the players have extremely long arms.

Sitting directly behind Luke, I could feel the frustration, the disappointment, the tightening then slumping of the neck and jaw muscles. Sitting behind him, I'm massaging his neck and shoulders. Everyone else trying to lift his spirits with words of encouragement and assurance.

The first round was now history; passed over by so many. The silence and gloom was overwhelming.

Russ Granik steps to the podium: "And with 32nd pick of the 2003 NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Lakers select ... (maybe the longest pause and hesitation in my life) ... Luke Walton of the University of Arizona."

Things have not been the same since those few precious words were uttered. Pandemonium! Bedlam! Piling on top of each other. Fists pumping the air. Tears of pride, joy and exaltation. And all in the same house and home that Luke was born in 23 years ago.

    Pull yourself together and keep waiting for the sign

Things moved quickly after that. Lori and I dashed up to Las Vegas for the NBA Retired Players Association Board Meetings. Trying to help the former players and their families who have fallen on tough times is one of the most important matters that anyone who has ever benefited from this great game and league could ever do with their time and life. We can never thank our Executive Director, Mel Davis, for his endless and selfless sacrifices to make it happen for others.

Now off to "LeBron City," formerly known as Cleveland, and the Academic All-America Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies. Dick Enberg is always the best at whatever needs to be done and his regular hosting of this feel-good event of the year never fails to lift our spirits no matter the depths or fatigue. Air Force's Chris Howard was a special inductee for me this year. I had gotten to know him as a friend over the years when he was working in the pharmaceutical industry in Princeton, N.J. We would attend Tiger basketball games at Jadwin Gym together. And now they've sent him off to Baghdad.

    Keep waiting for the sign

We finally made it home to the point were we could put the garment bag away for at least a little while and we gladly settled into a routine that did not include airplanes, television and crowds. I was able to focus on my life and loves away from the games that have come to define my world. At last -- the piano, the garden, cycling, books and my family -- day after day, interrupted only by special friends like Lute and Christine Olson, in Coronado for the summer. Lute is no longer Luke's direct coach. Now able to relax, Lute takes a breath and hands him off to the next great teacher in his burgeoning life -- Phil Jackson.

The weather, spectacular as ever. Day after day: to bed at 9, p before the dawn at 5, unable to wait to get started anew, one more time.

A bit of work, but fortunately no airplane required, as I laid down the soundtrack with the ultra talented Ian Eagle for Sony's NBA 2003 PlayStation Video Games. And then, as Lori and I started to hit a nice rhythm, the music began. And never really stopped.

With mosquitoes on the river, the fish rising up like flies, there were so many top acts touring and playing such spectacular venues, it was often hard to tell at the end of it all if the bands were even there at all. Crosby, Stills and Nash ... Phish ... Carlos Santana ... The Eagles ... Neil Young and Crazy Horse from Greendale ... Bruce Springsteen ... The Dark Star Orchestra ... The Electric Waste Band ... Jose Serrano ... Jimmy Buffett ... Dmitry Kirichenko ... Bob Dylan ... and The Dead, who I thought used to be a West Coast Band.

One of the many great things about living in San Diego and Southern California is that it is a destination resort for so many during the time that I theoretically have off from work. And there are so many wonderful music venues for the artists to shine: Viejas Indian Reservation, nestled in the mountains just east of town; Coors Amphitheatre with the enticing Silver Bullet Lounge; Humphreys, right on the glistening waters of San Diego Bay; The Belly Up in Solana Beach; Winstons in Ocean Beach; Irvine Meadows; The Orange County Fairgrounds; L.A.'s Greek Theatre; The Santa Barbara County Bowl.

On one particular week-long run in mid-September , we saw on successive nights: Neil Young in Santa Barbara, The Dead at Irvine, The Dead at Shoreline, Neil Young at Irvine, Dmitry at Scripps Ranch and Jimmy Buffett at Coors. I was telling Lori as we pulled out of Santa Barbara that the only way this week could be any better was if the whole tour just stayed right there in Santa Barbara and all the bands came to that jewel of a city.

I thank and tell my Mom and Dad every day how much I appreciate them living in San Diego. After spending a few days in Santa Barbara this summer, I did admit to my folks that I would still love them if they had lived in Santa Barbara.

But with all the fabulous music throughout the summer, the one that I really wanted to get to but was unable to attend was "The Dream Exists Festival" held in Santiago, Chile in early September. This two-day extravaganza was a gathering of Latin America's top bands to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the military coup that deposed the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. That concert was held in Santiago's National Stadium -- the site of some of the worst of General Pinochet's atrocities. The Dream does exist and we will never let it die. We will never retreat or surrender.

    Pull yourself together, keep looking for the sign
    Wait for the light to shine

One of the most rewarding parts of my summers every year is the chance to give back -- to repay -- the people of this great land, the people who on a daily basis give me and my family the greatest lives that anyone could ever dream of. We love sharing the largess that comes our way with the thousands of great Americans who give up their whole lives to help make other people's dreams come true.

All summer long -- every summer -- we are constantly attending and hosting charitable events for those that are doing all the real heavy lifting in our world. Heroes, all of them. It ultimately saddens me to see how hard they have to work for the meager treasures for what seems to me to be our duty, obligation and responsibility: to take care of those who can't help themselves. Heroes are those who willingly sacrifice and take risks for someone or something else with nothing expected or promised in return -- other than the possibility that someone else may smile just a bit.

We always meet our best friends at these events. And those are the nights we rest most comfortably.

    Don't forget your brothers as you travel through the land
    Wait for the light to shine
    He may be in trouble, he may need a helping hand
    Wait for the light to shine

But sadly, our world has become a negative, selfish and greedy place, with hate, invective and self-promotion as the stepping stones to abusive power. Some people don't like it when I talk about our current political leaders like that, but to say otherwise would be dishonest.

And the events of this summer were especially difficult to explain to my now grown children -- none more so than the hiring of Rush Limbaugh to provide sports commentary on the NFL. Imagine my shock and dismay when Rush immediately got into a flap by using the same argument that Dennis Rodman and Isiah Thomas used 17 years ago in Boston when trying to explain why Larry Bird was a popular ball player. Oh!, the outrage and uproar.

But why should we be surprised? That is what Rush and others like him do: they divide, they weaken and they break people's spirit. Every day.

Our tolerance of Rush's lack thereof is the real surprise. Al Franken was right, then and now. Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot.

And while some people may choose to ignore it, I could not help but notice the coincidental yet simultaneous time line of Rush's resignation from ESPN, the announcement of a criminal investigation involving him and the president's proclamation that Rush is a great American. To say other wise would be dishonest&.

    Never give up hope or cast your pearls before the swine
    Pull yourself together, keep looking for the sign
    Wait for the light to shine

But enough on the death of hope. We're talking The Rising.

We're talking Springsteen, Dylan, Neil, The Dead, Jimmy and The Parrot Heads.

We're talking Carlos, who donated all of the proceeds of his summer tour to fight the scourges and plagues of the world.

We're talking Coach Wooden's 93rd birthday and his Presidential Medal of Freedom.

We're talking celebrating my parent's 53rd wedding anniversary in the same family home for 51 years now.

We're talking Mama's Kitchen -- a completely volunteer San Diego-based organization that provides free food daily to the sick and dying.

We're talking the Canine Companions for Independence program, the San Diego Humane Society and our dogs Annie and Shasta.

We're talking Loma's graduation from CCI and her placement with her new family -- David and Rhonda.

We're talking UCLA and The Amy Klosterman Fund, The Blazers and The Celtics Shamrock Fund.

We're talking the Whispering Winds Family Camp, The Hartford and San Diego YMCA and The Rex Foundation.

We're talking the Young Native American Scholars Program, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and the naming ceremony at the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute for the cutest little children you've ever seen -- "He Who Lights Up The Land" and "Pretty Little Sunflower."

We're talking the ESPY's, Jamie Foxx and his raps on LeBron and Serena, Jake Potter, and the World Champion San Antonio Spurs, who still don't receive any credit or recognition in an All-Laker, All-the-Time world.

We're talking the San Diego City Club, the Lewis and Clark Biennial Celebration and the Jr. NBA and Jr. WNBA in Tijuana.

We're talking Sea Biscuit, Frank Marshall, Chris McCarron and the Don Macbeth Memorial Jockey Fund for injured and disabled riders.

We're talking Lance Armstrong in another remarkable Tour de France milestone while we put in our own glorious miles every day.

We're talking the Rosarito to Ensenada 50-mile rolling Fun Ride down the Baja Coast with 10,000 grinning faces.

We're talking San Diego's Oasis Medical Group providing free health care to injured but uninsured high school athletes.

We're talking Pennsylvania's York Catholic High School and Las Vegas' Young Presidents Organization.

We're talking making a proud, joint appearance at this year's National Sports Memorabilia Convention in Atlantic City with my son, Luke.

We're talking weekly Frank Rich columns in the N.Y. Times and we're talking Tony Hawk's 900.

We're talking Special Olympics, The Merry Pranksters and the thousands of young, bright, vibrant, hopeful faces that only want a chance in life.

We're talking an offseason of dizzying, unprecedented player and coaching movement in the NBA.

We're talking Halle Berry and not Tim Duncan, Jason Kidd or Jermaine O'Neal who emerged as the top free agent who decided not to stay home.

We're talking Meadowlark Lemon, James Worthy and Robert Parish at the Basketball Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies.

We're talking the Wheel of Fortune and we're definitely talking the new NBA season, it's 58th and most promising year ever as the Lakers will most certainly go undefeated.

We're talking hope, joy, optimism and a better world.

Which brings me back full circle to Oct. 4, 2003 and to the end of the line of one of the greatest summer runs that I have ever had. That October night, while standing in the rain at New York's Shea Stadium with 50,000 of my closest friends, Bruce Springsteen came onstage to close down one of the most financially successful tours in the history of Rock and Roll. It was one of the most remarkable, inspirational and emotional nights that I have ever been a part of: So much effort, so much determination, so much passion for real American values.

As the night wore on and we all were coming to the sad realization that not only the show and the tour but the summer itself was coming to a climatic end, Bruce called up to the stage Bob Dylan. Reluctant and hesitant, Bob stepped into a shaft of light and led our exercisers through a rousing version of Highway 61 -- a song about the unfolding of improbable and implausible events. At the conclusion of the song, Bob left the stage immediately, much to everyone's dismay.

All we wanted was more.

But then Springsteen launched into a fervent monologue, thanking Dylan for all that he had done for us, adding a personal touch of his own youthful experiences. Bruce reflected how when growing up in the '60s, he was scared, frightened and alone; how Dylan was his strength and inspiration; how Dylan's willingness to sacrifice and take risks had made him a true American hero to millions around the world. He reflected on how, for Bruce Springsteen, it was Bob Dylan who had given him the courage, hope and confidence to dream beyond the narrow confines and limits of his own life and the small town that he grew up in.

Those are the same aspirations and goals that drive us today but are so regularly smothered by the masked and dangerous charlatans that keep trying to hold us down, all the while stealing our country and world. Thanks Bob and Bruce and Mickey and Neil and Carlos and David, Steven and Graham and Jimmy and Clarence and Glen, Joe and Don and all that we can't mention. Thanks to you, we will keep pressing on to a higher calling.

    If your life is empty and you're on your last go-round
    Wait for the light to shine
    If you hear the chime-knells on the highway you have found
    Wait for the light to shine

And now we stand on the threshold. The season is upon us. Things have never been better.

Our youngest son, Chris -- a scholar/athlete -- has two years left at San Diego State. Next up the totem is Luke, who is living on the beach in Manhattan Beach and playing for the Lakers -- the luckiest guy in the whole draft. Nathan just barely lost to Arnold in the California recall election and in his spare time is attending Stanford Graduate School. Adam, the oldest, healthiest and happiest of them all, has a job.

    Don't let trouble fool you and your sins will be all gone
    Wait for the light to shine
    Don't forget it's darkest just before the break of dawn
    Wait for the light to shine

And as we always do just before the season gets underway every year, we celebrate coach Wooden's birthday: 93 years young, and if I didn't know better I would swear that he's taking Botox. So many memories, so many stories.

So much happiness, so much to look forward to. He still, after all these years is so positive, so upbeat, so constructive, so loving, caring and giving. He still beats the sun up every day with the attitude that "we get to go play ball, let's go." He still outworks us all, still setting a pace and standard that no one else can match.

He's been chiding me for a few years now, telling me to "Slow it down, big man, slow it down," telling me that I'm doing too much, that I need to watch how much I'm getting myself into.

I can only respond that, just like in our days together at UCLA 33 years ago, he is so totally wrong. When I look at him and at all that he does even today, I know that I'm not doing nearly enough. There is no further evidence needed to that fact that I, sadly, did not even make the NRA's Enemies List.

    Pull yourself together, keep looking for the sign
    Wait for the light to shine

Bill Walton, who is a regular contributor to ESPN.com, is an NBA analyst for ESPN.

ESPN.com NBA Insider and Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton will again serve as a game analyst for ESPN's NBA telecasts. He joined ESPN and ABC Sports' in their inaugural season of NBA coverage in 2002.