Author: Josh Fisher
My buddy texted me after listening to SODE 258: Bill Walton UNLEASHED. He said, “that’s one where you just throw the playbook out the window and play the game from instinct.” Our friend and listener’s assessment perfectly summed up our experience with Bill. It was tempting to get into our heads and start to worry about how we hoped to conduct this interview. Once the zoom-links have been sent out, and the Cal-invites are sent, talk becomes action; and the excitement of making the playoffs takes a backseat to the significance of the game itself. While this isn’t “make or break” for us (very few things are I feel) Bill Walton is our biggest named guest thus far. He’s an NBA-MVP & multi-time champion; Bill is also arguably the greatest, most dominant, the college player of all time. I knew of him from the moment I began watching college basketball because it was beaten into my brain that he was the greatest college player ever, period.
We locked in for a Monday recording, on a Friday evening, which gave us the whole weekend to prepare. Prep work is great because you’re watching an old film, talking hoops, talking with our dads who saw him and watching Bill as a commentator. Tass had listened to him guest on another show as well, just to hear what that was like. We try to digest as much as we can, so we can get a vibe of our guests, as well as get a sense of what they like to talk about and have also been asked about before.
To go for the “I’m going to ask you something that no one has ever asked you approach” is so stupid. You don’t want to be basic, but if you’re curious about something…ask it. My feeling is don’t worry that it’s already been asked before, trust your reaction to the answer will be unique to you and therefore take the conversation in a potentially distinct path.
I think we all felt very comfortable heading into this one. We usually have a list of about 5-10 questions (not including “what’s your favorite sports memory”) to choose from or revert to, in the show. Ironically, for this one, we had upwards of 15 I’d say. I say ironically because we didn’t use a single one.
It felt like when a rollercoaster starts to count down from ‘10’ and shoots you out at like ‘3’ instead of ‘1.’ We had a distinct game-plan. We want the conversation to be as natural and fluid as possible. If you try and control a fire too much you can smother it. Conversations have to be allowed to breathe. All that being said, for my peace of mind, I at least like to have the first question of the show script. I’d have to look back into my notes to tell you what it was because it was never asked. Before I could even say “Walton” in his introduction, we were off and running; sprinting actually.
If you ever go running with someone, and they start the run at a pace that’s way quicker than what you’re typically comfortable with, your heart jumps to your chest, and the thought “can I (in this case we) handle this?” Then you catch up, catch your breath, and get in their stride. You realize the pace is quick, and not what you're used to, but doable.
Bill took off talking about his latest venture with ‘Bike For Humanity’ (great cause), which turned into hoops talk, which turned into talks about family, which turned into talk about reading. We had done so much prep on basketball talk, but that was far from the most dominant topic within the conversation. Fortunately, no topic dominated the conversation. Some shows you hit one or two topics of conversation, other shows you can hit like 6,7,8. Both shows work, they’re just different is all. I don’t have a preference to either, as long as the guest feels comfortable being themselves. “Feeling comfortable in your skin,” seems to be Bill’s greatest strength. No lines of his were pre-built, everything we got was a natural stream of consciousness. Nothing fell in line with our “plan,” which was for the better. Maybe we would’ve gotten an answer or two, we “wanted,” but the show would’ve suffered. After we hung up, it took about 30 minutes to resettle and understand the experience we just had. It was as eccentric an interview we’d ever had, and will ever have, most likely.
Generally, I have a good idea of how things went, but this one I was very unsure. It wasn’t until I watched the show back and realized it was a success. Bill generously spoke about what was ever on his mind, and we allowed him to do so. Nothing was forced or pressed. And while the dialogue didn’t parallel what we outlined; it was better than anything we could’ve scripted. It was real. It was very raw. It was Bill Walton…unleashed.
“Competition is great, but it’s not about the competition; Cowboy Neal. It’s about finding something your passionate about and having fun doing it.” – Bill Walton
The best advice is sometimes the simplest.