Bill Walton is no stranger to challenge. As a basketball hall-of-famer with 14 years in the National Basketball Association under his belt, he’s also no stranger to teamwork. Surprising as it might seem, the La Mesa native calls his latest team at San Diego Sports Innovators the best he’s had the pleasure of being on. And the challenges are aplenty.
SDSI was formed through the nonprofit trade organization Connect to foster the growth of sports companies in San Diego. As executive chairman of SDSI, Walton stands humble, insisting that while the growth of SDSI has been tremendous, it still isn’t enough.
“We are humble but hungry,” Walton said. “We have a responsibility, duty and obligation to do more.”
SDSI has bloomed into a cluster of more than 600 local companies, Walton said, ranging from running apparel companies like Roadrunner Sports to Xterra Wetsuits. Perhaps no one is as critical of his performance on the executive board of SDSI as Walton himself.
As he enters his second year as chair, he plans on focusing more on services to SDSI’s startup companies and being a better advocate for its more mature companies in 2011.
The bar has been set high, Walton said, by Connect’s Chief Executive Officer Duane Roth and Connect’s President, and SDSI co-founder, Camille Sobrian-Saltman.
Jokingly pointing out that his only skill in life is being places he doesn’t belong, Walton expressed honor and privilege in being chair of SDSI, but gives much credit, in basketball terms nonetheless, to his newest teammates.
“I’m a member of a team,” Walton said. “Duane Roth, he’s a combination of John Wooden and Maurice Lucas in my life. Both Coach and Maurice -- both passed away this year and Duane Roth, he shines the light and he also clears space under the boards.
“My whole life has been driven by the dream of being part of a very special team. I had that in the basketball, the television career. I was part of three of the greatest teams in the history of basketball -- UCLA, the Portland Trailblazers and the Boston Celtics -- and that list doesn’t even include Helix High School or Blessed Sacrament Elementary School … This is the best team I’ve been on.”
Walton’s humility at SDSI may come as a direct result of two things: his unmistakable dedication to San Diego and his renewed life after a back surgery he underwent in 2009. The two are not completely separate, as it was the innovation of a San Diego medical device company, NuVasive (Nasdaq: NUVA), that he credits with giving him a second chance after living decades with pain.
“Because of their sacrifice, their commitment, their vision -- I’m alive. And I am back playing in the game of life one more time.”
Calling the non-existence of the NBA in San Diego his greatest failure in his professional life, he feels compelled to elevate San Diego, just as NuVasive had done for him.
“My goal, my dream, is to spend the rest of my life here in San Diego, helping the business community create jobs, create wealth and to help other people’s dreams come true.
In the innovation economy, Walton added, the most valuable assets are dreams, spirits, minds and imagination, and he hopes to further nurture them in 2011.
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July 11, 2012 -- George Chamberlin speaks with David Hale, CEO of Hale BioPharmaVentures, and Duane Roth, CEO of Connect, about San Diego's biotech industry and innovations that come from this region.