Eleven minutes into ESPN’s broadcast of last month’s UCLA-Arizona game, college basketball’s most tangent-prone analyst steered the conversation in an unexpected direction.
Bill Walton told an outrageous tale of his alma mater declining to recruit the greatest player who ever lived.
Michael Jordan wanted to play for UCLA, Walton insisted, but UCLA told him, “Nah.” When pressed by play-by-play man Dave Pasch, Walton reiterated that Jordan preferred the Bruins to home-state North Carolina until former UCLA coach Larry Farmer said, “There’s no reason for you to come here. We don’t have space for you.”
While it’s easy to dismiss Walton’s story as the product of a peyote dream, some quick research reveals there might be some truth to it. Google “Michael Jordan” and “UCLA,” and one of the first links that pops up is the transcript of a 1992 interview the Chicago Bulls legend did with Playboy magazine.
During the interview, biographer Mark Vancil asks if North Carolina was Jordan’s first choice. Responds Jordan, “I always wanted to go to UCLA. That was my dream school.”
“When I was growing up, they were a great team,” Jordan continues. “Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, John Wooden. But I never got recruited by UCLA.”
So could it be that Walton was … right? Or at least partially right? The path to uncovering the truth begins with a conversation with the man who Walton threw under the bus.