WILKES-BARRE — Bring memorabilia, cameras and plenty of Sharpies.
Those planning to attend Wednesday night’s Northeastern Pennsylvania Council Boy Scouts of America dinner will not be disappointed by this year’s speaker — basketball legend Bill Walton.
Walton, 61, said he will be the first one in the door and the last one out, and he will sign autographs, pose for pictures and shake hands with every person wishing to meet him.
“How can you ever get tired of people being nice to you?” Walton said in a telephone interview. “I’m asking everyone to come out to support the Boy Scouts. Tell them to bring their memorabilia and their cameras. This event is another great opportunity for me to say thank you. Athletics has given me the greatest life ever.”
For tickets, contact Becky Mozeleski, executive assistant & finance secretary, Northeastern PA Council, BSA, 72 Montage Mountain Road, Moosic; phone 570-207-1227 x226 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Walton said he wants to sell the event out to raise as much money as possible so the Boy Scouts can offer young people the same opportunities he had while growing up in San Diego, Calif.
Walton knows the value and meaning of youth programs — that they are critical for young people to get the sense of what it takes to become a champion one day in athletics and in life.
He knows about championships. He won two high school championships at Helix High School in San Diego in 1969 and 1970, two NCAA crowns at UCLA in 1972 and 1973, and two NBA titles, one with the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers and the second with the 1986 Boston Celtics.
He was NCAA Player of the Year three consecutive years, leading UCLA to two straight 30-0 seasons during an incredible 88-game winning streak.
Wednesday night will be “a grand celebration of life focused on the next generation of leaders,” Walton said. One of his most famous quotes that he repeats often is, “I have lived a blessed life.” Walton appreciates all who have sacrificed to make him a successful person — his parents, teachers and coaches.
“To be successful in life, we must work as a team,” he said. “We have to sacrifice for the team and make a commitment to the team.”
Programs like the Boy Scouts are necessary to build a strong community, Walton said, and youth programs are vital to provide leaders and role models.
“We all should do everything we can to make a positive difference in somebody else’s life,” he said. “That doesn’t just happen; we have to work at it, nurture it and inspire people to care. When you care, that drives pride and loyalty.”
On coming to Wilkes-Barre to speak to the Boy Scouts, Walton simply said, “It’s an honor for me to do this.” He was in town four years ago to speak on behalf of the Volunteers of America. He said speaking events are something special for him.
Walton has been covering the NCAA Final Four in Dallas, Texas, before heading to Wilkes-Barre. He said he intended to tell Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan that he will be speaking in the city where Ryan got his education. Ryan is a 1969 graduate of Wilkes College, now Wilkes University, and played for the Colonels basketball team.
“Young people are our future,” Walton said. “The value that Wisconsin players learn from Bo Ryan are the same values I learned from Coach John Wooden. And the Boy Scouts deliver the same message. Team, commitment, sacrifice, organization and discipline. Build your life and chase your dream.”
Walton said his parents, Gloria Anne and William Theodore “Ted” Walton, had no interest in athletics, neither as participants nor as spectators. But he said they were perfect parents.
“They taught me about life,” he said.
• Enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993.
• His four sons played college basketball: Adam at Cal Poly Pomona; Nathan Whitecloud, Princeton; Luke, University of Arizona; Christopher, San Diego State.
• Is an avid fan of The Grateful Dead.
• Has been a vegetarian all his life.
• In college, the 6-foot-11 Walton drove a Volkswagen Bug by removing the front seat and driving from the back.
• Overcame a severe stuttering disorder.
• Spent more than half of his 14-year NBA career on the injured list due to foot problems.