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San Diego’s Airport Doesn’t Want This Great Bill Walton Statue

Photo credit: Lenny Ignelzi/AP

Bill Walton—one of the world’s leading public philosophers and humanists—was born just outside of San Diego and has made the city his home for decades, frequently calling it the greatest and most beautiful place on earth. So when a private group offered gratis the city’s airport a 1,200 pound bronze statue of Walton, arms spread wide standing in front of a ludicrously tall bicycle, of course they took it, right?

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Of course not, because that would’ve been too easy and sensible. As the San Diego Union-Tribune reports, the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority recently told the donors in a letter that they wouldn’t accept the gift for a number of reasons: there was no cost estimate for installation and maintenance, it is unfair to highlight an individual’s accomplishments, it doesn’t fit the airport’s existing art collection, and the statue doesn’t depict Walton playing basketball.

The Airport Authority’s arguments aren’t compelling. The gift included all site preparation and installation costs, leaving only maintenance of a hardy bronze statue. Individuals are celebrated all across San Diego, such as with the naming of the Ted Williams Freeway. And while I’m sympathetic to the belief that the statue doesn’t fit the airport’s existing public art collection, turning down a well-done statue of one of the city’s most beloved sons on this reasoning is awfully intransigent.

Finally, the reasoning in the letter that the “the depiction of Mr. Walton (failing) to celebrate what is most emblematic of his past accomplishments” misses the point entirely. Walton hasn’t played professional basketball in almost 30 years, and while he is a Hall of Famer, basketball was always just a small part of Walton. He has attended hundreds of Grateful Dead concerts, he crouches his long frame onto a bike for long rides whenever he can, he raised four seemingly well-adjusted sons, he broadcasts nationally televised basketball games and spends most of that time espousing his love and admiration for humanity, and has a fanatical commitment to dozens of charities. Playing basketball well is actually fairly low down on Walton’s list of accomplishments.

Here is how a previous Union-Tribune article describes the statue and Walton:

The statue brought to life by sculptor Alison Brown, who previously produced pieces for Oregon, USC and others, offers Walton as so many San Diegans know him. He’s a joyful, bike-riding giant preparing to embrace the roads and trails of his home — not an homage to a former athlete unable to let go.

The piece is Bill Walton, the guy who treasures and loves a city like it was a member of his family.

“I never saw Bill play basketball. We met, post-career,” Lori Walton said. “So all I know of Bill is everything he does philanthropically. He’s really amazing. He gives with his whole heart. He doesn’t give just to put it on his resume. He truly cares.”

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What better person to be memorialized in bronze, to welcome visitors to San Diego and residents back home?

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About the author

Kevin Draper

Reporter at the New York Times

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