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Bill Walton helped Indiana's Rick Carlisle earn NBA title, win over future wife


INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle poured out his heart Monday night when he started reflecting on the impact of Bill Walton.

He recalled how Walton’s arrival helped turn the 1985-86 Boston Celtics into an NBA title team for the ages. Carlisle explained how playing with Walton extended his own career and how Walton’s generosity even helped Carlisle impress his future wife on their first date.

Yes, Bill Walton, who died Monday at age 71, was a character — one Carlisle thinks will always stand alone.

“To me, he was a living, breathing event in history just walking around,” Carlisle said before the Pacers and Celtics met in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals. “He played drums for the Grateful Dead at the Pyramids in Egypt. He was a guy who did everything and there’s been a lot of talk today about how he speaks in hyperbole and stuff, but he just defiantly competed for every moment in life to be the greatest it could possibly be.”

While some considered the Hall of Famer’s uniquely free-spirited persona the product of a bygone, war-protesting era, Carlisle knew the Walton others didn’t.

The first time they met, Carlisle said he was shocked to see Walton eating a large roast beef sandwich instead of the expected vegetarian dish. At practices, Carlisle said, Walton raised the competition level so high the starters and backups argued about who won the most scrimmages.

But, when it was time for business, Walton went all in — on the court and off of it.

Perhaps no event showed more about Walton’s character than the moment Carlisle asked for tickets to a 1987 Grateful Dead concert in suburban Washington.

“I said, ‘Look, I’ve got a date with a girl I think is really cool, I’d love to go to the Dead show at Capital Centre, but I don’t have any tickets, can you help?’” Carlisle recounted of the band’s tallest fan. “He said, ‘Just go to the back door, ask for Dennis McNally, tell him you’re Rick Carlisle from the Boston Celtics and everything will be just fine.’ I said, ‘Really?’”

When the skeptical Carlisle pulled onto the loading dock, he jumped out of the car, walked down the ramp and asked his date, Donna, to wait for him to return.

“She said, ’What, don’t you have tickets?’ I said, ’Just give me a couple minutes here.’ So I walked down (the ramp), I knocked on the door, the whole thing ended up working out. I walked back up the loading dock ramp with two all-access laminates, one said Bill Walton, the other said Susie Walton.”

Eventually, Carlisle and Donna walked through a stage door and had a low-key conversation with group members Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and Mickey Hart. It was a moment, and a gesture, Carlisle never forgot from someone who became a lifelong friend.

Carlisle married his date from that night 13 years later, and the bond between Walton and Carlisle only became stronger over the years.

The two often exchanged text messages, right through this year’s NBA playoffs and Carlisle relayed those messages to his players, explaining how much Walton enjoyed watching the Pacers and their track-like tempo — right up until the end.

“He was a game-changer on so many levels and in so many people’s lives over such a long period of time,” Carlisle said before the Pacers had a moment of silence before the game. “I talked to Luke (Walton) today for a few minutes, you know, they’re doing OK, but this has been tough, obviously, and it will continue to be tough. But what an amazing man. There will never be another.”

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