Let me start out by saying I KNOW THIS WILL NOT BE A POPULAR OPINION.
But it’s Tuesday, which means it’s time for me to unburden my soul of all the angst I’ve had stored up since … Monday, and on Monday I tried to watch my beloved Hoosiers take on Providence in the Camping World Maui Invitational of Asheville, North Carolina.
I say “tried,” because in the booth was the fantastic Jason Benetti, whom you should listen to every chance you get, and his sidekick, Hall of Famer Bill Walton.
Now don’t get me wrong, if I could invite anyone I wanted to a party, Bill Walton would likely be near the top of the list. He’s unintentionally hilarious, he’s down to earth, he’s got a lot of great stories. He’s definitely someone you want around the campfire. Even the calcified, cynical shell I’ve developed over the course of the last nine months isn’t immune to his tie-dyed charms!
And yet …
Look, it’s a new season. There are players I haven’t seen much of in the past. There are new underclassmen. There are things I legitimately wanted to hear about during the Indiana-Providence game, like how my team stacks up against other teams in the Big Ten, and how Archie Miller is keeping his players safe from COVID-19. Did I hear about these things? Dear Reader, I did not.
What did I hear about? Mountains. Waterfalls. Camping. Walton kept mixing up IU players Race Thompson and Trayce Jackson-Davis. At one point, Walton read postcards that people sent him, often with lengthy prose. I heard about voodoo, forklifts, drum circles, the “celebration of life” and, of course, the Grateful Dead. Anything on a basketball court can, ideally, be related to the Grateful Dead. It’s the first thing they teach you in journalism school.
And hey, I cackle at this stuff as much as the next person when I don’t care about the game I’m watching. That’s the entire reason ESPN enables this stuff: people will tune in just to games they normally wouldn’t just to hear what Walton has to say. And while it’s kinda funny to watch Bennetti gently nudge Walton back on track, he never stays there for long. Any game Walton calls has become the Bill Walton Show. And the Bill Walton Show can be fun! But not when my team is playing.
Come to think of it, I never stay on games Walton is calling for very long, unless my team is playing. It’s great to flip over for a few minutes, hear a couple of wacky references to nothing happening on the court, but then I usually click away. Which is to say that Bill Walton is fine in small doses, but he’s a lot to take when you actually care about the game he’s calling. And Benetti, who too often plays the straight man with Walton, has a witty, dry sense of humor that gets lost in Walton waxing philosophical about clouds, or whatever. If I want endless hours of people making stoned observations, I can head over to Twitter.
2020 has brought us so little joy, I don’t begrudge anyone doing whatever they have to for a laugh. We all need to laugh a lot more than we have in the past four years. And if Bill Walton does it for you, godspeed. Let’s just keep him in the PAC-10, the ACC, the SEC, and in every other conference except the one my team plays in.
Gumdrops, unicorns, rainbows, and waterfalls to you all.