Virgen's View: Walton finds better way back

Bill Walton came through Newport Beach on Tuesday leaving a lasting impression, a sizable impact and a wide range of emotions.

The big man threw it down.

The NBA Hall of Famer made them cry and laugh. He gave out his phone number and email address. He showed them a smile of relief and pure joy. This is what he does now, after confronting suicidal thoughts and extreme pain.

He speaks, so eloquently and poetic, about his conquering of back pain. He is part of the Better Way Back program and was delivering his story during a free seminar to leg and back pain sufferers at the Newport Beach Marriott Tuesday night.

He also sat down with me for a short interview before he spoke in front of a packed room.

"A lot of people would like to think there's nothing worse in life than what is happening to the Lakers," Walton said. "But when your spine fails and when you are dealing with constant pain your life is ruined.

"My story is a story of success and failure, hope and despair, life and death."

He told his story to the people in the room, wanting to give them hope and encouragement.

Six years ago, Walton said he endured excruciating pain that knocked him down. He said it was if he was submerged in a vat of scalding acid with an electric current running through it.

It wasn't so much that he was afraid of death. He was actually afraid of living with the pain.

"My life was over," he said. "I was standing on the edge of the bridge. If I had a gun I would've used it. I was Junior Seau. That loss of belief. The loss of your health that destroys everything. I'm the biggest believer in the world in the importance of foundation."

He said his foundation has been his health. He sought the process and practices of NuVasive, which is based nearby his hometown of San Diego.

Now he wants to help others who seek to find relief from the pain and a new life.

He also offers tough love.

At one point during the seminar, he gave some blunt advice.

"You need to do what the Lakers need to do and that's quit whining, quit making excuses and take charge of your life," said Walton, who is 60.

That's exactly what Walton has done. He returned to broadcasting, working for the Pac-12 Network and ESPN, and he is working on an autobiography.

He doesn't mind writing about himself or talking about himself.

As he shared his story on Tuesday night, various pictures of "The Big Red-Head" flashed on a screen behind him.

He touched on his time as a stutterer. He also talked about the Grateful Dead and recited lyrics from a Neil Young song.

He revealed that he has had 36 orthopedic surgeries. Both of his ankles are fused.

"My knees, hands and wrist don't work and now I have a fused spine," he said. "Other than that everything is fantastic."

While Walton appeared to mainly talk about back pain, he also didn't refrain from discussing heartache, as in the state of Laker fans.

"It's sad and it's disheartening because it's such a great franchise," Walton said of the Lakers. "They represent so much of what is positive in our lives. And right now it's just not happening.

I thought it was going to be spectacular because I'm a huge fan of the four critical guys. Kobe. Steve and Pau represent the beauty and class of basketball at its best. And Dwight Howard, the most physically gifted talented big man in today's game. It was a horrendous start and they were decimated by injuries and they haven't been able to regroup.

When you're in that situation which I was with my own personal health, you have to come back to the core of who your are as an individual. That's what the Lakers need to do.

Is there time? That's the question."

Twitter: @SteveVirgen

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