The Annotated Bill Walton: Oregon, the Merry Pranksters & Phi Slama Jama

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 5th, 2015

Back by popular demand, your skeleton key into the mind of Bill Walton. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of the piece, we try to decipher what exactly the most interesting college basketball commentator in the world was talking about, as Oregon got past by Washington in Eugene last night, the most remarkable power spot on Earth. And, as always, you’ll want some musical accompaniment, so let us kindly suggest the Grateful Dead at Mac Court on the campus of the University of Oregon on a cold January day back in 1978, featuring an epic second-set jam. Start with Terrapin Station and let it ride.

After A Fun Night In Eugene, Will Dig A Little Furthur Into Bill Walton's Commentary

After A Fun Night In Eugene, Will Dig A Little Furthur Into Bill Walton’s Commentary

First half

16:36 – “I’m fired up. Today was one of the most remarkable days of my life. I saw so much, I’m just hoping it was all real. Because that was a spectacular series of events. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”

Comment: Now that’s what you call a tease, setting up what is sure to be our storyline the rest of the night.

14:09 – Following discussion of Robert Upshaw getting kicked off the Washington team and playing with a small lineup: “I know you’re not old enough to remember that one of the great teams in the history of college basketball – two consecutive championships in the mid-60s, they happened to play at UCLA – the tallest guy on the team was 6’5”.”

Comment: Sometimes you have to clean up the facts a little bit. For sure, the 1964 UCLA national championship team famously featured no starter taller than 6’5”, with Hall of Famers Walt Hazzard and Gail Goodrich leading the way and senior center Fred Slaughter and junior forward Keith Erickson each checking in at just 6’5”. But, Doug McIntosh came off the bench at 6’7” and played 30 minutes in the title game. In 1965, he regularly started and 6’6” Edgar Lacy also became a major factor for the Bruins.

11:09 – Dave Pasch pre-commercial, teasing the next feature: “Well, coming up: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. No, it’s not Walton’s biography. A Walton’s World tribute to Ken Kesey and someone called Mountain Girl. You can’t make this stuff up.”

Walton’s World: “What a day. It started at the HDC with football and then quickly moved to the Knight Library where Voodoo Doughnuts donated $10,000 to the Ken Kesey Fund. And then, one of the original Pranksters, Ken Babbs, the rider who went to college with Ken Kesey at Stanford. The Knight Library had this fantastic collection, including this record soundtrack from Jack Nicholson. And then all the writings. Mountain Girl was there to read it. And then the Jail Journal. And then we all wound up in the Ken Kesey Classroom. And here tonight at the Matthew Knight Arena, Mountain Girl on the left, Sunshine she’s on the right, she’s Ken and Mountain Girl’s daughter. And then down underneath the basket on the other end, we have Ken Babbs. Ken Babbs, a great basketball player in his own day at Miami (Ohio), played on the same team as Wayne Embry. He’s dancing with the Duck here, he’s a great writer himself, he’s got the Last Go ‘Round novel.

Pasch: “Now wait, who is Mountain Girl?”

Walton: “MG.” Duh! “Mountain Girl.” Really, you don’t know who Mountain Girl is? “No, her name is Carolyn Garcia.”

Pasch: “So wait, Garcia. That sounds familiar.”

Walton: “Yes, oh absolutely. A long time wife of Jerry Garcia. But really, one of the founding members, with the Pranksters, with the Grateful Dead. It all started down in Palo Alto where we’ll be tomorrow night. And it was just an unbelievable turn of events and sequence of convergences that have led to this most remarkable power spot on Earth: Eugene, Oregon.”

The Bus Came By And I Got On, That's When It All Began

The Bus Came By And I Got On, That’s When It All Began

Comment: There’s a lot here, but you need to know the backstory first. Go google The Merry Pranksters. Read Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Koolaid Acid Test. The basic story is this: a group of like-minded souls developed around LSD, the nascent west-coast hippie movement and Ken Kesey – an iconic American novelist who wrote, among other things, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. The rest is madness.

7:32 – On Roman Sorkin, new Oregon basketball player from Israel: “So ever since Roman Sorkin started playing here at Oregon, I’m getting calls from all my friends in Israel telling me, Bill, come on, fix this: we’ve got twelve tribes here and no casinos. What’s going on?”

Comment: Groan. Pasch wisely doesn’t touch this one.

6:56 – “Have you heard of this guy Tom Brady? Plays football. One of the classiest things ever, said he wanted to give the MVP truck to Malcolm Butler. I got one of those MVP trucks and I had the chance to give it to my dad. And he came to pick it up at Depoe Bay, which is where they filmed all of the fishing scenes from Cuckoo’s Nest. It all rolls into one. Depoe Bay: the world’s smallest harbor.

Pasch: “Meanwhile, Tom Brady probably has no idea who Ken Kesey is, much like most of our viewers.”

Walton: “Mumble, mumble.” Rightly speechless.

Comment: The Pasch comment. I don’t know Tom Brady from Adam, but I like to believe that a guy with the intelligence to be an NFL quarterback has the intelligence to pick up a book every now and then. And maybe, just maybe, he’s familiar with one of the greatest American novelists. And let’s just say he isn’t, or that many of the viewers of this telecast were not. Well, you know what, maybe somebody otherwise unfamiliar with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Sometimes A Great Notion, or even The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test will hit up Amazon tonight (or god forbid, a real live brick-and-mortar book store) and buy one of those books and enjoy it and see the world in a different way. There aren’t a whole lot of better things that could come from a simple little telecast of a kid’s game.

5:33 – “If you look at Dillon Brooks, you’ll see that he’s all bandaged up. It was on Sunday night that he was walking out of the library on his way to church, and he fell down. And he’s got stitches underneath that bandage on his forehead and he’s got stitches on his right hand.”

Comment: Bill sounds skeptical of Brooks’ story about his injuries, but at least they got a chance to reprise the running gag about flesh-colored bandages.

4:41 – On Robert Upshaw: “You know how I talk every week and complain about the NCAA not modernizing the rules? That’s another rule they’ve got to modernize. And this whole War on Drugs has been an absolute failure across the board and somebody’s gotta step forward. And we’re waiting for Obama to step up and say why are we punishing people for things that are legal. Why are people languishing in jail for things that are legal. You look at the front page of the Register-Guard right here in Eugene today address that same point.”

Comment: Amen. And good luck

3:59 – “One of the great things that has happened with the NCAA is that they’ve hired Oliver Luck, a guy who is a modern person, who is hopefully going to come in there and say ‘Look, we have to be better at things than just cashing the check.”

Comment: See previous comment.

1:54 – Responding to Pasch’s inquiry into Walton’s UCLA GPA: “It was good enough.” After more prodding: “Good enough to graduate with a degree with honors in history, three-time Academic All-America, Academic All-America Hall of Fame. And I read all of Ken Kesey and Ken Babbs’ books.”

Comment: Shut it, Pasch. See, this is one of the things I love about Bill Walton having a national platform on ESPN. We’ve got pictures of Ken Kesey taking viewers from your run of the mill college basketball game to commercial break. We’ve got a former athlete turned color commentator (and not just any athlete – one of the small handful of the very best basketball players ever to play the game) who, rather than just stick to the script of hitting all the normal talking points, can fold in artistic and intelligent extra-athletic interests to his commentary in an interesting and playful way while still providing timely insights into the game. Bill Walton is a treasure.

0:27 – Following a Dwayne Benjamin jumper, Walton continues a running theme: “Snoop Dogg, firing it up.”

He Does Sorta Look Like Snoop Dogg (John Sperry, 247 Sports)

He Does Sorta Look Like Snoop Dogg (John Sperry, 247 Sports)

Second half

18:34 – “I can’t get over Andrew Andrews. You’ve read Catch-22, right? It’s like the guy there named Major Major Major Major. That’s a tough way to go through life.”

Comment: Walton later goes to break talking about a major major major major play that Andrews made, seconds after detailing his justification for calling Benjamin “Snoop Dogg.”

15:28 – Responding to Pasch’s comment about Walton’s pronounciation of Dawn Staley’s first name: “I remember the Dawn Wall, on El Capitan. And every time you poo poo that, I want you to go stand at the base of Dawn Wall and look up and ask “How do I get to the top?”

11:54 – Coming back from break to a picture before the game of Babbs on the left, Walton on the right, and Pasch uncomfortably in the middle as Babbs continues a running monologue to no one in particular while Pasch looks for a place to hide: “Everywhere I go, people always ask me, who this guy Dave is that you’re always talking about. And so tonight, Ken Babbs wants to meet this guy named Dave, so he comes over here tonight and he says Bill, please introduce me to this guy named Dave. Now, Ken Babbs was the bus driver for Ken Kesey’s bus. It was absolutely fantastic. It was Ken Babbs who picked up Ramrod when he was hitchhiking with Neal Cassady, Ramrod who, from Oregon, went on to become the president of the Grateful Dead because he got on the bus.

Comment: You’re either on the bus or you’re off the bus. And Dave Pasch is certainly in his own movie. But, back to the Pranksters: Walton here credits Babbs as the driver of the Furthur, the Pranksters’ famous bus. But Cassady – also, in the guise of Dean Moriarty, the hero of some Jack Kerouac books, including On the Road – was famously “Speed Limit” and “The Man Who Could See Around Corners” with legend having him hopped up on amphetamines and psychedelics while driving the band of pranksters across the country. Cassady stories are straight legendary. And then there’s Ramrod, aka Laurence Shurtliff, who was a roadie for the Grateful Dead for, well, forever it seemed like.

10:45 – So I came here this morning from the Knight Library and I was introducing myself to Donaven Dorsey. And as I do with every other player, I asked him ‘What do you like to do?’ And too often I hear, ‘I like to sleep and play video games.’ What I heard from Donaven Dorsey was ‘I like to read and I like to write.’ I believe! Thank you Donaven Dorsey. And thank your parents.”

Comment: Glowing appraisal of Dorsey.

8:40 – Pasch misspeaks and mistakenly puts Ralph Sampson as part of the Phi Slama Jama Houston teams that Joseph Young’s dad Michael played on: “We all knew what you were talking about. Akeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, and Guy Lewis, the Hall of Fame coach. They were a fantastic team, one of just a handful of great great teams that never won the championship at the college level.

Phi Slama Jama: Great Sports Nickname? Or The Greatest Sports Nickname?

Phi Slama Jama: Great Sports Nickname? Or The Greatest Sports Nickname?

Comment: While I like Walton’s “fahgettaboudit” dismissal of Pasch’s small mistake, I really wanted to include this just to be able to talk about Phi Slama Jama for a second. You’ve probably heard the name if you’re a college hoops fan – it is among the best team nicknames in the history of sports. Hall of Famers abound: Olajuwon, Drexler, Lewis, but guys like Young and BYU head coach Dave Rose were also members of this team. The nickname was coined by Houston Post writer Thomas Bonk and is straight genius, the kind of thing that rightly earns bonk sportswriter immortality. As for the team? They made three straight Final Fours from 1982 to 1984. In 1982, they lost to eventual champion North Carolina and a guy named Michael Jordan. In 1983, they were on the wrong side of a Lorenzo Charles miracle putback dunk as time expired and sent Jim Valvano on a chase around the court for a hug from anybody. And in 1984, Patrick Ewing and Georgetown knocked off the Cougars in the national championship game. To summarize: Phi Slama Jama lost in three straight Final Fours to absolutely iconic college basketball teams, and along the way, despite never winning a title themselves, became one of our sport’s iconic teams just the same. Just imagine that alternate universe where Phi Slama Jama won three national titles in a row and is considered among the best two or three college basketball teams ever.

3:13 – Following shots of old MacArthur Court, the former Oregon basketball venue: “Some of my highest highs in that arena and sadly some of my deepest lows: The Lost Weekend. And as part of the Kesey exhibit, they had a lot of displayed memorabilia from those days, and there was one particular picture of The Kamikaze Kids coached by Dick Carter who was a great friend of Ken Babbs and in that picture, I’m lying on the ground, I’m surrounded by four other Ducks lying on the ground after they had knocked me down.

Comment: Walton on “The Lost Weekend”: “I will forever have that stain, that stigma on my soul. I’m looking for salvation. I’m looking for some way to rinse it off, but it just won’t go away.’’

UCLA's Road Failures In Oregon 40-Plus Years Ago Still Haunt Walton

UCLA’s Road Failures In Oregon 40-Plus Years Ago Still Haunt Walton

1:15 – In response to @NicoleAbeyta’s daughter’s question:”Why isn’t that man talking about basketball?” “Nicole, I am taking about basketball. It all rolls into one… Basketball is life, and the fantastic thing about it is that all the metaphors you use in basketball apply perfectly to life: transition, rebound, crossover, change-of-pace, change-of-direction, momentum. And when you’re out there and you’re standing at the base of Dawn Wall and you say how am I ever going to get to the top of that, turn to your coach and say ‘Which route, which pitch?’ You want to get somewhere in life, ask someone who is on their way back.”

Comment: We’ll leave you with those words of wisdom for tonight. Maybe we’ll do this again next week.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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