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Pacers’ Rick Carlisle recalls how Bill Walton helped him win over his wife, and meet the Grateful Dead

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Tributes poured in on Monday after the NBA announced the death of Hall of Famer Bill Walton, who died at the age of 71 following his battle with cancer. 

Among the countless memories shared, Indiana Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle, Walton’s former teammate, shared his fondest one – and it wasn’t winning the NBA championship together with the Boston Celtics in 1986. 

Celtics team members, from left, Danny Ainge, Rick Carlisle, Larry Bird and Bill Walton, celebrate with the NBA championship trophy at Boston City Hall Plaza, June 10, 1986. (Bill Greene/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

“He has stayed in touch with me – he’s been texting me a lot throughout our playoffs,” Carlisle told reporters before the Pacers’ Game 4 loss to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals on Monday night. 


“And I have him to thank, probably, also for me being married to my wife, Donna.”

With a smile, Carlisle recalled calling on Walton for a favor in 1987. He had only recently met his future wife and was hoping to impress her with tickets to see the Grateful Dead – Walton’s favorite band. 

“Our first date was to a Dead show in Washington, D.C., and I called Bill and I said ‘Look… I got a date with a girl that I think is pretty cool. I’d love to go to the Dead show at Capital Centre. I don’t have any tickets. Can you help?’ And he said, ‘Just go to the back door, ask for Dennis McNally, tell him you’re Rick Carlisle from the Boston Celtics and everything will be just fine.’” 

Carlisle explained that he did just as he was told the night of the concert, but had to reassure his future wife that they did indeed have tickets for the show. 

Bill Walton and Grateful Dead member Mickey Hart at an NBA game

Bill Walton and Grateful Dead member Mickey Hart entertain the crowd before the Sacramento Kings take on the Dallas Mavericks on Feb. 9, 2011, at Arco Arena in Sacramento, California. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)


And Walton did not disappoint. 

“The whole thing ended up working out. I walked back up the loading dock ramp with two all-access laminates – one said Bill Walton and one said Susie Walton. So we were set up for the show, and we were actually on stage watching the show. And during the break, we kind of just wandered into the back and just opened up a door and ended up sitting down with Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and Mickey Hart for about 15 minutes just shooting the s—.”

“I mean, it was an unbelievable night,” he continued. “Obviously, it was a good first date.” 

Rick Carlisle talks to the media

Head coach Rick Carlisle of the Indiana Pacers talks to the media after the playoff game against the Boston Celtics on May 25, 2024, at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. (Pepper Robinson/NBAE via Getty Images)


Carlisle went on to celebrate Walton not only as a teammate and an athlete, but also for his impact on the world. 

“To me, he was a living, breathing event in history just walking around,” Carlisle added. “He played drums for the Grateful Dead at the Pyramids in Egypt. He was a guy who did everything and there’s been a lot of talk today about how he speaks in hyperbole and stuff, but he just defiantly competed for every moment in life to be the greatest it could possibly be.”

“What an amazing man. There will never be another.”  

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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