Life as a college basketball team manager is a lot of grunt work, a lot of mopping up sweat, a lot of rebounds, and a lot of hard work. There are lots of great perks to it though: being in a competitive, team environment, traveling free to different places across the United States, and sitting front row to basketball games every week. In special circumstances, sometimes you can end up meeting your illegitimate father.
Well, maybe not everyone partakes in the last perk, but it certainly happened to me. Allow me to set the scene…
Wednesday December 3rd, 2014
It’s noon on a rainy day in Southern California. The weather doesn’t bother me even though I’ve grown up in sunny SoCal my whole life, going from San Diego to Fullerton. A change in weather is nice, and I enjoy the rain. You know where it rains a lot? The Pacific Northwest. You know what’s in the Pacific Northwest? Portland, Oregon. You’ll understand the relevance later.
I digress. It’s my second year being a team manager for the Cal State Fullerton men’s basketball team and for the first time we’re facing a ranked team. We’re in Westwood to face UCLA Bruins, formerly the 22nd team in the nation that season. I’m hyped as hell! This is going to be Cal State Fullerton’s year and I have high hopes for this basketball team. We want to start with wiping the floor with these rich, stuck-up, bumbling Yogi-Bear-mascot-having twerps at the UCLA and get a signature win early on in the season.
(Side note: I hate any team we ever played. Especially you UC Santa Barbara).
We shuffle off the team bus, just outside of Pauley Pavilion. I toss a bag of stretching bands for the team over my shoulder and attempt to move out of the rain as quickly as possible. I walk in alongside fellow team manager & fellow contributor on Exquisite Sports Talk, Daniel Fria, and as we enter the arena we begin to set up for shoot around.
Now, I’m behind one basket, unloading some bands, when Daniel comes up to me, “Bill Walton just casually sitting in the gym,” he says. I slowly turn around and sure enough, there he is.
Mr. Walton stood on the sideline, shaking hands with Cal State Fullerton head coach Dedrique Taylor. As I looked from afar, I couldn’t help but be in awe of all the things this man had accomplished and been a part of in his career: playing for USA basketball, achieving two undefeated seasons at UCLA under Coach John Wooden, being named an NBA MVP, and winning two NBA championships — one with arguably the greatest NBA team ever in the 1985-86 Boston Celtics. Off the court personally, he overcame a stuttering problem and went on to have a long-term broadcasting career. He’s been married and has four successful sons, but are there only four sons though…?
As we went through shoot around, Mr. Walton looked on. Afterwards, he spoke and gave numerous crumbs of advice, “Foundation, sacrifice, discipline.” He had such fatherly wisdom; I hear you sir, I hear you. When he was finished speaking to us as a group, we had the opportunity to meet him individually.
I stepped forward, shook Mr. Walton’s hand and muttered, “Hello sir, Zach Cook.” Bill Walton’s response, “Zach, it’s nice to meet you. That’s a great beard!” I blushed. Now there were a lot of ways one could describe the beard I was donning at the time, however great would not be one of them. Frizzled maybe, disheveled perhaps. Not great though, not by a long shot. My beard was never an attempt to look good, though. It was, if anything, more of an attempt to protest the idea that being clean shaven or grooming one’s beard means anything at all. In my opinion, it doesn’t really.
Only someone truly understanding would grasp and connect to a concept like that… someone like a father, perhaps? I honestly don’t remember much after that, I was too high off the beard compliment.
A few weeks later it was Christmas. I recounted my story with family members. That day, my brothers and I presented our parents with some pictures we had taken as Christmas gifts. I looked over the photos with my parents and that’s when it struck me! I began flipping through google images and I gasped! Here are some pictures of those Christmas gifts…
Now, here’s a picture of Bill Walton for those who don’t recall his looks immediately:
You can go back and look again, the article isn’t going anywhere. Zoom in, do whatever you need.
Can you even tell who’s who? We’re a spitting image of one another! I realized then, that Bill Walton complimenting my beard wasn’t just a nice compliment, it was a secret message. This was some National Treasure-like conspiracy! Bill Walton was telling me through beard-to-beard conversation that I was his fifth son! This goes beyond just having similar beard and face structure too, let’s break this down
We were Born in the Same Place
Now, normally being born in the same place as someone bears no significance, but in this case it means EVERYTHING! If father wanted me to find him one day based on clues, this is the obvious first place to start because this is literally where we both started! La Mesa, California is a little city in East County San Diego where we were both birthed. It’s a nice town, safe and serene. Father would never have to worry about anything happening to me here. Not only that, but in essence we’d have a similar upbringing. Dad wanted us to be close, just not too close.
My dad, the man who raised me amazingly all my life is also named Bill. Coincidence? But, it’s not just only him. My grandfather and great-uncle are also named Bill. Wake up sheeple. Just more clues peppered around me from Mr. Walton. I am a big, big fan of classic rock music, just as he is and it’s clear he basically tried to pull some Beatles, “Paul McCartney is dead” type of stuff on me. The clues get more and more obvious the more one looks. I see you, Dad.
We’re Both Left-Handed
The man that raised me isn’t left handed. My mother isn’t left handed. Neither of my brothers are left handed. But I’m left handed? And guess who else is…Bill Walton. Coincidence? Point, Walton.
Once again, my mom isn’t that tall. The man who raised me is maybe about 6’o”. My brothers, maybe around 6’1″. No one in my family is extremely tall, so how in the hell did I end up being 6’4″!? I get that 6’4″ isn’t huge, but compared to everyone in my family, it’s pretty damn big. Those genes had to have come from Bill Walton himself.
Our Basketball Ability
This is it. The final piece of the puzzle. The “ahh ha!” moment if you will. I suck at basketball! I mean, I am not good. I get by on athleticism and being taller than most people, but I don’t really have much game. I can’t shoot, I can barely dribble, my defense is lackluster. There’s very little about my ability that is pretty. There are a couple however: I can pass pretty well, I ferociously rebound, annnnnnnnnnnnd while only 6’4”, I do show quite an affinity for the low post game.
Just. Like. Bill.
Bill Walton was known for a lot of things on the basketball court, but two of them in particular were he was an incredible big man, offensive post player, a great rebounder, and he was a magnificent passer, especially for a center. Isn’t it just too interesting that while I have the build of a tall point guard or small shooting guard, that I play like a center?
This was why Bill chose not to raise me. He knew I’d be trash at basketball and he was right. Of course you were, Dad. He knew that I’d want to follow in his fantastic, big man center ways, but I’d never have the right size or basketball ability to perform like he was able. And Bill just could not go through the embarrassment of his 6’4” wanna be center son, trying to post up players like Jakob Poeltl, Skal Labissiere, Domantas Sabonis, or Diamond Stone and getting swatted and pushed around the court all game long. It would tarnish his legacy and his son’s legacy. Everything he and Luke had worked for. So, he left me to find my own way, while leaving clues to remind me of where I came from.
I love my family. They’ve done so much for me and raised me so well. I’d never, ever, EVER want anyone else for a family. However, I am truly grateful and happy that I was able to solve the puzzle and discover the truth about my true father. That’s perfectly fine for me. I got my two hours with Bio Bill that December day in Westwood.
I am the long lost fifth Walton son. Cal State Fullerton may have lost the game that night, but I won.