Every one of the Superdome’s 76,468 seats has a warm buttock smothering it this Friday night. The masses have gathered on the eve of this Saturday’s Final Four game pitting Duke against bitter rival North Carolina. From all corners of the universe, they’ve made the pilgrimage to the Superdome to experience this week’s crescendo Coach K hero-worship event. It’s a can’t misser. Bill Walton will be dishing out a keynote speech to pay homage to this great coach and give his perspective on how great K’s career has been compared with Walton’s coach at UCLA, John Wooden.
World leaders from 347 countries, ranging from secretaries of state to vice presidents to presidents and dictators, fill the VIP seats near the platform where the microphone and 69-year-old Bill Walton, in his UCLA basketball game shorts and jersey, gears up for the monumental celebration of basketball genius and immortality.
Kicking things off, Walton introduces “Dickie V” Vitale, who gets up and says:
“I’m just so glad Coach InKredible made me hundreds of millions of dollars in my illustrious basketball broadcasting career. All I had to do was keep saying how great he was every time I called K’s games, and ESPN, NBC, and CBS loved me for it. My lavish praise sold bushels of TV advertisements and made me and the networks outlandish bank.”
The restless crowd boos. They want Walton. V steps down. Walton goes to the podium.
“I’m supposed to compare the accomplishments of my college coach, John Wooden, with those of Coach InKredible,” he said. “But I don’t get it. My coach won 10 national titles and K has only won five. And Wooden won those 10 in 12 years. It’s taken K a whopping 42 years to get his five.
“So I’m kind of surprised at what I’ve been asked to speak about tonight. I would add that the new 400-foot statue of Coach Incredible in front of the Superdome is overdone. Based on national title wins, there should be a statue of Wooden that’s 800 feet tall. Why we’re even comparing these two men puzzles me.”
Walton then goes on to say that his puzzlement reminds me of how he felt at the Saratoga Springs, New York Grateful Dead concert he spent five days enduring in 1978 when he indulged in several recreational drugs and tripped out of his mind listening to his all-time favorite band. On that night, he said, he wore the same college basketball uniform he rocked tonight at the Superdome.
“It’s all kind of fuzzy now, but I do remember thinking Grateful Dead music elevated my mood. I felt like I was flying around in the cumulous and cirrus clouds on a jet only made for flying in cumulous and cirrus clouds. I could see the sky and the moon and the stars and they all looked oddly the same, like flying saucers or whitish-yellow basketballs without the word Spalding or Wilson on them.”
That turned into quite a ride, he told the crowd.
Then he makes a quick segue, regaling the Superdome worshipers about a time ten years later, as a card-carrying Dead Header, he made the pilgrimage to a Dead boondoggle in Aspen, Colorado up in the mountains where air acted thin and life turned inexplicable.
“That was beyond existential,” he said. “I felt like I was living the life of a peanut farmer, or maybe it was a professional bowler, or was a gorilla from Saturn, and was just taking a few days off up on the mountain grooving to the Dead. While there, I remember feeling the world spun on its axis at a 38-degree angle like a top. And I hallucinated as I did an all-night Hula Hoop dance (the Hula Hoop alternated pink and purpose colors) and the entire crowd of 289,765 cheered me on as if I was a has-been gladiator from a lost world.”
The Superdome crowd gets restless. They came to hear a coronation of Coach Krown Jewel from one of the basketball world’s most discombobulated minds. Instead, they found themselves indulging a former basketball star telling his twisted tales about rebellious rock concerts put on by one of the world’s most controversial, misunderstood, and mysterious bands.
Walton paid them no mind.
“The Grateful Dead still exist, even though some of them are dead, and we should all be grateful for that,” he said. “Gratefulness is the vibe that emanates from my blood vessels. I feel tonight galactically grateful to be alive in this monstrous facility before all you superhuman existentialists.”
He whips out his Hula Hoop and the Grateful Dead band takes the stage. He wiggles and the band opens with this psychedelic hit:
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