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Editor’s Letter: How NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton Left His Mark on the Pet Industry

Glenn Polyn//May 28, 2024//

Editor’s Letter: How NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton Left His Mark on the Pet Industry

Glenn Polyn //May 28, 2024//

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Like everyone who had the honor and privilege of experiencing the wonderful Bill Walton, we at Pet Age are deeply saddened to hear the news that he passed away on May 27. Walton was a class act and touched the pet industry in a profound way when he was the keynote speaker at the 2024 edition of The Summit earlier this year. Below is the Pet Age Editor’s Letter that was published in the March edition of Pet Age magazine.


The Summit, the pet industry’s kickoff event, took place in January. Known as the only high-level program harnessing the collective knowledge of top executive from every segment of the pet care community, savvy members of the industry use the event to gain fresh insights for business growth through networking, collaboration and thought leadership. The 2024 edition of The Summit featured several engaging speakers, including New York Times bestselling author Karl Rove, leadership expert and former Navy Intel Officer Mary Kelly and consumer strategy expert Michael Johnson of BSM Partners.

One name on the speaker list that caught my eye was Bill Walton, whose keynote presentation “Life Happens: Staying Joyful is a Choice,” was a Day 3 morning session. I expected Walton, the great basketball center who is not only a Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer but also an Emmy Award-winning broadcaster, to be entertaining; however, the level of enlightenment that he delivered impressed me to no end.

Walton, who is a spry 71 years old, possesses a big, bellowing voice and a roving syntax that is thrilling in its complex imprecision. He talks nostalgically on a wide range of topics – from his struggles overcoming a lifelong stutter to the inspirational messages found in his legendary UCLA coach John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success – with an endearing stoned, hippy vibe. There were too many brilliant moments to list in Walton’s one-hour presentation, which included a wonderful slideshow compiled by his wife, Lori, but what follows are some of the gems that I found most enlightening:

On winning and losing: “I’ve been fortunate to be part of the greatest teams in the history of basketball, the UCLA Bruins, the Portland Trailblazers and the Boston Celtics. In spite of being on top for all those years, I also spent six years of my life with Donald Sterling and the Clippers, so I know the difference … and, believe me, it’s a lot better being on top.”

On the best values in a leader: “Be positive, encourage, be nurturing and supportive. I don’t believe that fear and intimidation are good leadership attributes. I think of leadership as making things and people better at what they do and who they are. Become a human solar panel – absorb energy and send it right back out – or a forklift – pick things and people up and put them in better position. Elements of leadership – shine light, breathe life into situation and team, illuminate the path forward, then the ability to never ask anyone to do something that you haven’t ever done yourself or aren’t willing to do yourself.”

On what UCLA coach Wooden said when he was recruiting Walton: “You’re facing this monumental choice in your life. You’re at the fork in the road. I’ve seen you play, Bill. You’re going to be fine. But if you want to be the best. If you want to be the champion at everything you do. It’s not how good you are, it’s how good your teammates are. Your ultimate level of achievement, accomplishment, success and happiness in life is based not on you. But on how good the other guys are around you. That’s what we have at UCLA. We have a great culture. I’m going to build your foundation, and we have great players who are not only terrific basketball players but, more importantly, they’re even better human beings. I was John Wooden’s easiest recruit.”

With those stories in mind, I encourage you to read on and, as Walton says, “understand, accept, embrace that whatever it is we’re facing, it’s all going to come down to leadership, a leader that builds a great team and develops individual champions.”