7.12.2018

Walton and Wooden Reunite



March 25, 1994
The old guy and the middle-aged redhead have been some duo.

One molded young men into the greatest winning tradition his sport has ever known. The other became the best player in America.

John Wooden and Bill Walton. Is it really 20 years since they took their act to the top of the polls? 

So much has happened. Larry and Magic have come and gone, and there have been five coaches at UCLA who couldn't handle an impossible assignment. The game is not the same.

Or maybe it is. That's the message from the famous UCLA coach and his famous pupil who, two decades after dominating college basketball, are back together again. Not on the court, of course. On cassette and compact disc.

Wooden, 83, and Walton, 41, through the help of Reseda producer Harvey Kubernik, have reunited to record their impressions of the game and how it serves as a metaphor for winning in life, too. They talk about dribbling and defense, passing and the press -- the brains of basketball. But, most of all, they talk about practice and preparation, discipline and determination -- the backbone of basketball.

"They both wanted to give something back to the game," Kubernik said, "and this is more than just a sound bite."

Hours more, in fact. The two separate double recordings -- Wooden's "A Life In Basketball" andWalton's "Men Are Made In The Paint" -- were distributed by New Alliance Records in Los Alamitos and hit the stores in late February. The recordings comprise about six hours of expertise sprinkled with musical interludes that reflect the rhythm of the fast-paced game. The Walton music was provided by ex-Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek. Walton always likes to have good company.

Originally, Kubernik, a pioneer in spoken word recordings, planned to include only Walton. He picked the redhead/Deadhead/talking-head after hearing him interviewed on radio and television. This wasn't Bill Walton circa 1973. "He didn't have the stutter of the Walton I had remembered," recalls Kubernik, president of BarKubCo Music, Inc.

Plus, Kubernik, anxious to branch out beyond his traditional recording circle of counter-culture poets and alternative musicians, envisioned in Walton someone who symbolized winning and a proven work ethic. "I knew I could go the distance with him," Kubernik said.

Walton, instantly enthusiastic about the project, suggested Kubernik include Wooden. Waltoncalled "Coach," and the answer was immediate.

"I did it for Bill," Wooden said. "We've been very close."

That news may stun longtime Bruin fans. As one former player put it: "Nobody gave Wooden more trouble than Walton." It was Walton, after all, whose numerous off-court acts of rebellion and defiance in the anti-Vietnam War era exemplified the growing generational rift between Woodenand the new brand of student-athlete.

Walton was everything Wooden wasn't -- outspoken, flashy, risky. But that was 1973. The years have mellowed Walton. He still loves basketball, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, but now he's part of the Establishment, a commentator on NBC. Nobody is happier about that than Wooden.

"I'm not surprised at his success," said Wooden, who lives in Encino. "Bill has worked hard for everything. When he makes up his mind, he can do anything."

On the other end of the mutual admiration society, Walton said: "I learned so much from him."

Making records with Walton and Wooden is the culmination of a Kubernik dream that goes back decades. He approached record executives in the 1980s with the idea of recording athletes but never got anywhere.

"No one said I was crazy but a lot of people in decision-making positions just felt that sports couldn't be explained in an audio form," he said. "They didn't think an audience existed."

Instead, Kubernik explained, basketball fans have been bombarded with spectacular highlight videos or tedious books. Placing the essence of the game into an audio form, he argued, makes basketball come alive. Kubernik, with help from friends and poets, posed questions to Walton and Wooden. The questions were edited from the recordings.

"I told Bill it was very important that the record not come out too tight, too edited," Kubernik said. "It has to sound like a real conversation."

Kubernik also thought it was important that the questions come from him, an outsider, as opposed to a basketball expert who wouldn't properly sympathize with the fan's perspective. "Because I never wore a jersey," he said, "it sounds different than some in-house production."

At times, both Walton and Wooden become repetitive, especially the coach who likes to cram in one of his favorite cliches -- "failing to prepare is preparing to fail." Kubernik admits this is no editing error. "Basketball is a game of repetition," he said. "By the second or third time you hear something, it does register. That's how you learn."

Walton calls it allowing the flow of the game to "enter your subconscious."

Music plays the same role in Walton's life, just as it did during his playing days. That's what made the record so right for him. As a player, he often persuaded the teams he played for to broadcast some of his favorite songs during warmups and timeouts to pump him up.

"Music, like basketball, is a free-flowing expression of your mind," Walton said. "They both go so fast to the next movement, the next note."

Walton devotes some of his tape to explaining his love for music, especially the Grateful Dead. And even Wooden accepts the correlation. "The great teams and individuals execute with the rhythm we find in all musical forms," Wooden wrote as a tribute to Walton in the liner notes.

Both Bruin legends also appreciated the chance to lay out some X's and O's, examining everything from blocking out defenders to making the proper bounce pass. The game today, they acknowledge, is loaded with glitter and showmanship but largely devoid of fundamentals and teamwork.

In the tape, Wooden explains that most games he coached were often won during the practices, which were meticulously organized.

"That's what I miss about basketball, not the tournaments and championships," he said, "but the execution during practice."

He added that the excessive celebrations that take place after spectacular plays diminish the dignity of the game. "I don't like all the high-fives," he said. "I expect them to feel good, but the individual is drawing too much attention to himself and away from the team."

His teams were known for holding rather subdued victory celebrations. "I didn't want them acting like fools," he said.

It is tough for Kubernik to act subdued these days. After landing Wooden and Walton in his first collaboration with sports figures, he's not sure what he can do to score again.

"Where do you go after you've won the NCAA title your first time out?" he said.

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