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

In subsequent years, Walton traveled with the Dead when the band performed at the pyramids in Egypt, drummed onstage with Hart and fellow percussionist Bill Kreutzmann, and appeared at a Dead & Company concert as Father Time as the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve in 2019. (Walton was also a fan of other musicians, including Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Phish.)

After Walton joined the Celtics before the 1985-86 season, Larry Bird, the Celtics star, organized a team outing to a Dead show in Worcester, Mass., as part of welcoming the new guy. Years later, Walton was inducted into the Grateful Dead Hall of Honor — “my highest honor,” he told Relix Magazine.

“He knew the music inside-out,” said Hart, who remembered that Walton’s favorite Dead song was “Fire on the Mountain.”

Walton also seemed to perceive other pursuits in terms of the Dead — above all, playing basketball.

“The music and the basketball were the exact same thing,” he wrote. “You have a team with a goal, and a band with a song, and fans cheering because they’re happy, but also to make the players perform better, faster, and to take everybody further.”

He continued: “During the game, during the song, everybody goes off, each in their own direction, playing their own tune. But then with the greatness of a team, the greatness of a leader, and the willingness to play to a higher calling, they’re all able to come back and finish the job together — to win the game and send the people out into the night ecstatic, clamoring for more.”

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