NBA legend Bill Walton is not particularly keen on skiing. It’s not just that moguls hit the knees different when you’re 6’11” on the stat sheet. “I hate cold weather,” the NBA Hall of Famer told me recently over the phone. So when pro skier Chris Benchetler got in touch with Walton asking him if he would narrate a new skiing, snowboarding, and surfing movie, Walton wasn’t particularly moved. Until he heard who was providing the soundtrack—the Grateful Dead, which, it just so happens, has soundtracked nearly Walton’s entire life. Walton was in. The result is “Fire On the Mountain,” which proves that the only thing better than watching 27 minutes of pure shred by the likes of Jeremy Jones, Danny Davis, Kimmy Fasani, Rob Machado, Michelle Parker and Benchetler is watching them do their thing to the dulcet tones of Jerry, Bob, and Bill, who, it turns out, might have found his calling in extreme sports narration. “This video captures so many of the things that I live for and love in life,” said Walton, “which is sports, art, the wonders of nature, and creativity.” On the occasion of the video’s release, we caught up with the so-called World’s Tallest Deadhead to talk about his pregame warmups. And you can warm up for your own spring skiing or surfing adventure with Fire On The Mountain right here.
GQ: Why do you think that the Grateful Dead's music is so resonant with skiers, snowboarders, surfers, and people who enjoy being outside?
Bill Walton: Well, I can only speak for myself, but the beautiful rhythms, the powerfully purposeful lyrics. Have you ever been to a Dead show, Sam?
No, but I went to Dead & Company’s fall shows at Madison Square Garden.
When you go to a Dead show, you might notice that people are dancing, that people are moving, and we're happy, which are all things that come into play when you're outside. I grew up in San Diego and still live there. In San Diego, we live outside. We have the Grateful Dead playing all the time. We are constantly seeking the discovery of nature. With the Grateful Dead as our tour guides, we are able to satisfy the emotional reality that we try to create for our own lives, culture, and environment.
Did you used to listen to the Grateful Dead before games?
What was your warm-up song of choice?
Well, it's all one song, it is all one show. But I have been listening for 52 years, and over the course of the years I've been able to have access to a lot of the music. Every day, every show, every trip is a new adventure, a new experience. But what I would do [before games’ is when I went to bed, I had a little boombox cassette player right next to my bed and I would have it set up for something that I knew was really good. My first waking conscious thought was to lean over and push the play button, and then it would just start up and just take me through the rest of the day, all the way until tip off. So that I would be in the rhythm, in the groove, in the space, and on the edge when that ball was put up, the two hands going ever higher to determine the fate of the known world one more time.
You once said, "Music, basketball, it's all the same." What do you mean by that?
The elements of life, the elements of being on a team, the elements of being in a band, the creativity, imagination, sacrifice, discipline, order, purpose, hope, opportunity, loyalty, gratitude. All the different elements of my life, that it's present in everything that I do, in everything that I believe in, everything that I live for, and everything that I try to do with my, in and with my life. There's no difference between who I am sitting here at this table, and who I was as a basketball player, who I am as a television commentator, who I am as a Deadhead, who I am as a person riding my bike, or in the weight room, or dancing right in the middle of Madison Square Garden.
I saw you dancing in the pit those two nights. How do you stay healthy after all these years to be able to go to the shows, and dance for three or four hours at a time?
Well I'm doing fantastic now. That has not always been the case. I've had 38 orthopedic surgeries, and I have spent half my adult life in the hospital and most of my adult life in chronic pain. But I am doing fantastic now. I have had some fabulously successful surgeries, and I'm doing just fantastic right now. I have no pain and I take no medication. I go full speed, and I can dance in the pit for entire Grateful Dead shows, entire Grateful Dead tours. [My wife] Lori and I, we go to as many shows as we possibly can. We just keep hoping and praying for more. And now with this Fire on the Mountain, and how Chris and his team have been able to capture this whole world of the harmonic convergence of sports, and art, and music, and creativity, and health, and nature, all the things that I love and have tried to live for and by, my entire life. It all comes together with Fire on the Mountains. And I'm Dead to the core.
You're often referred to as the world's tallest Deadhead. Do you actually know that to be true or have you ever met any taller Deadheads?
It's not how big you are, it's how big you play. But yeah, I can see at the concerts. I have a good view.
Originally Appeared on GQ