Bill Walton’s Long, Special Relationship With the Grateful Dead

Bill Walton played 604 basketball games in college and the N.B.A. over the course of his Hall of Fame career. But Walton, who died Monday from cancer at 71, wrote in a 2016 autobiography that he had attended more than 869 concerts by his most beloved musical act, the Grateful Dead.

“He loved the Grateful Dead I believe as much as we in the Grateful Dead have loved the Grateful Dead,” Mickey Hart, one of the band’s two drummers and a good friend of Walton’s, said in an interview.

“It wasn’t like he was a fan,” added Hart, who is currently performing a residency with a successor act, Dead & Company, at the Sphere in Las Vegas. “He was part of our family.”

Walton grew up in San Diego and first became famous for his basketball skills at U.C.L.A., where he won two national titles under the legendary coach John Wooden. Over a professional career attenuated by injuries, he earned a Most Valuable Player Award and championship titles with the Portland Trail Blazers and the Boston Celtics.

Walton and the Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart at a 2011 N.B.A. game in Sacramento. Credit…Rocky Widner/NBAE, via Getty Images

He stayed famous, including as a prolific television commentator, thanks to a winningly oddball style and crunchy interests, like cycling and left-leaning politics. And his personality seemed perfectly suited for — and summarized by — his lifelong love of his fellow California institution, the Grateful Dead.

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