By Darla Martin Tucker
Ethan Davis, a graduate of Escondido Adventist Academy, had often heard of NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton while growing up in Walton’s hometown of San Diego. On Oct. 23, Davis got the chance to meet Walton and learn from him.
Davis, a La Sierra University Health and Exercise Science major and forward on the Golden Eagles basketball team, was among university student-athletes who attended La Sierra’s 2019 Frank Jobe Memorial Gala at the Riverside Convention Center in Riverside, Calif. Walton, noted as one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players of all time, served as keynote speaker.
The gala is named in memoriam for famed sports orthopedic surgeon and La Sierra alum Frank Jobe and serves as a fundraiser for athletics scholarships. The first Frank Jobe gala was held in 2017 and featured Major League Baseball pitcher Tommy John, on whom Jobe performed the first ever ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery in 1974—a groundbreaking procedure that has saved the careers of many athletes. John also attended this year’s gala.
Walton’s career includes leading the UCLA Bruins under renowned Coach John Wooden to two NCAA championships, an NBA Most Valuable Player award, two NBA championships with the Portland Trail Blazers and the Boston Celtics, and induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He appeared at this year’s gala through his friendship with former UC athletics director and current Golden Eagles Athletics Advisory Board Chair Stan Morrison, who celebrated his 80th birthday during the Oct. 23 fundraiser.
Walton passed along to an attentive audience of nearly 450 university and community members lessons learned from his parents, from business leaders, from the renowned Wooden, and from his immense struggles with multiple injuries.
He riveted the audience with stories of his college basketball days under the influential Wooden and of the inspiration of his father—“absolutely the best dad ever,” he said—a social worker and music teacher who sacrificed all of his free time to drive a young Walton to play basketball. “In basketball, like in life, you have an opportunity to make a positive contribution to the goal, to what the dream is, what the mission, what the purpose is,” Walton said. “That’s what this is about tonight, trying to develop that level of honor, sacrifice, and discipline for what’s coming next.”
His love for basketball took root in the fourth grade and became the passion of his life. “I just fell in love with it from the beginning because it was perfect. Basketball was the most surreal and excellent game of all,” Walton said. “Basketball was the easiest part of my life, and second was academics.”
His life, however, was challenged by a stuttering impediment, which he overcame during his late 20s, and by multiple injuries and 37 orthopedic surgeries during his career, including surgery on his spine. He recounted a four-year period during which his body stopped working and despair drove him to suicidal thoughts. He credited the support of his wife, Lori, and others who encouraged him.
“I’m here tonight to say thank you.… Tomorrow is worth living for and worth fighting for,” he said.
Walton noted the lessons on leadership he learned from his coaches, which include “the illumination of the path forward,… the ability to never ask anyone to do something that you haven’t already done or are not willing to do yourself, to pull the team together, to define the terms of the conflict, to do what others can’t and won’t do,… and the ability of the leader to say no.”
Walton’s presentation was an inspiration to La Sierra’s Davis. “He’s a cool guy, a funny guy.… He motivates me because he never gave up on his career,” he said.
La Sierra psychology major and gala attendee Duane Darrett plays guard and forward with the Golden Eagles basketball team. He noted Walton’s down-to-earth demeanor. “He’s just a cool guy,… and he has a lot of wisdom,” Darrett said. “He’s such a great personality to be around.”
Darrett enrolled at La Sierra on an athletics scholarship after graduating from Newbury Park Adventist Academy and commented on the importance of scholarships to students seeking to join an athletics program. “It means I’m wanted and I can add some value to the team,” he said.