Last week I mentioned that my brother recently had the opportunity to catch up with former Celtic great and NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton (who you can see in this picture that Jimmer recently sent me), decked out in his trademark tie dye tee-shirt as he stands next to Jimmer and his never hard to find 7 foot 3 inch teammate – who I know simply as Max. What I didn’t tell you about, was the unforgettable time when I myself had the opportunity to meet big Bill Walton in the tunnel at the old Arco Arena in Sacramento.
One of the many cool things about having a brother in the NBA is that when you go to the games, you get to enter the arena through the same tunnel that the players run through to take the floor. Never one to get star-struck myself, I grew pretty accustomed to walking shoulder to shoulder with some of basketball’s finest superstars such as Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant. In fact, when walking out of the tunnel to take my seat at these NBA games, I never knew who I might run into. Occasionally, celebrities ranging from Floyd Mayweather(who is a regular at NBA arena’s), to Drake, to Ben Stiller would stroll past me. My walks through the tunnel also would provide me with some pretty cool experiences, such as –
physically running into Russell Westbrook (who was very gracious, saying excuse me when he nearly ran me over in the hallway), to hanging out with MMA
star Urijah Faber, to even having a great conversation with New York City native and NBA strongman Ron Artest. However, with all of these really cool experiences that I was able to have in the tunnel, I would have to say that the coolest of these experiences, was the time that I met my man Bill Walton.
I remember when Jimmer was with the Kings, before one of his games I was chatting with one of the friendly security staff members at Arco Arena, when all of the sudden I heard this extremely familiar voice echoing throughout the tunnel. I turned around to see who it was, and right there standing in front of me was the legend himself – the one and only former Celtic superstar Big Bill Walton. He was coming up to shake the staff members hand whom I was speaking with, before taking to the court to call the game – as one of the Kings TV announcers. After the greeting, this staff member who I’d grown to know well, was gracious enough to introduce me to Bill. Upon hearing that I was TJ Fredette – Jimmer’s older brother – you would have thought that I was the celebrity with the way Bill excitedly reacted. Bill reached out, gave me a long firm hand shake and a smile, and said to me – “So this is the great older brother I keep hearing about.” I guess it’s fair to say I was very taken back by Bill’s reaction to meeting me. Here he is, One of the greatest NBA players of all time, a Hall of Famer, and a legend. . . and he was excited to meet me?!
We continued from there to have a great conversation for the next 15 minutes or so, until a Kings PR person had to come up and tell Bill, he’d better hurry and get to the court before the game started. Bill proceeded to talk to me for another 5 minutes – to the point where I almost felt inclined to remind him he needed to get out to the court and get ready for the broadcast.
Eventually Bill did break away and take his place behind the scores table to call the game. But all I could think of after my conversation with him was… what an amazing guy. Even with the great level of status and celebrity that he has in NBA circles, this man not only gracious enough to take the time to go out of his way to talk to me, but he also made sure that he showed a genuine interest in me as a person. He could have easily just said hi and went on his way – but he didn’t. Instead he showed me the type of respect and personal attention that made me feel like I was special. Now that really says a lot about Bill Walton as a human being in my eyes. If only we all treated the people we meet on a regular basis with that same positivity and respect, regardless of who they are and what they have accomplished in their life. I know that if we all did, this world would be such a better place.
Soon after I took my seat for the game that night, I received a text message from one of my friends who was watching the game back home. It turns out that Bill had also met the rest of my family that night in the tunnel, and when he took the air to call that game, one of the early statements that he made on air, was this – “I just had the opportunity of meeting Jimmer Fredette’s family including his older brother TJ in the back tunnel, and I must say – it was one of the greatest moments in my life. What a special family.”
Now I know that Bill was only joking when he said “it was one of the greatest moments in his life,” and it was certainly just said in fun, but the fact is, the man displayed incredible class with how he treated us, and he left my family and I with a wonderful memory – that we will surely never forget.