Last week, we called up Luke Walton for a summer update in which he detailed his back rehabilitation, and made his selections for a Lakers volleyball starting six.
Below is the rest of our conversation, which includes Walton’s off-season update on some of his teammates, his diet, his relationship with Phil Jackson and details from his post-Finals vacation that took him through South Africa, France, Italy and Hawaii:
MT: What kind of contact have you had with your teammates throughout the offseason? Any updates?
Walton: We don’t keep in touch that much during the summer. I’ve seen Kobe at the gym the last couple weeks rehabbing his knee. He’s itching to get back on the court. He shows up every morning at seven at the team’s facility and is kind of wrapping up around the time I get there at around 9 a.m. Lamar, I’ve talked to a couple of times, watched a few of his games with Team USA. I know he’s looking forward to getting back to L.A. … he has had such a busy summer. I spent some time with Jordy (Jordan Farmar) before we sent him off to New Jersey a few days ago … I’m happy for Jordan. He wants the opportunity to run a team, and he’s going to hopefully get that opportunity at some point out in New Jersey. Obviously I’m going to miss him; he was a big part of our team and my best friend on the team the past few years. I’ve seen Shannon (Brown) at the gym a few times and I talked to Fish (Derek Fisher) a bunch right after he signed, but haven’t talked to him recently. Talked to a few other guys that won’t be with us next year like D.J (Mbenga), Josh (Powell) and (Adam) Morrison, to wish them luck and that type of thing. I met Steve Blake at the gym last week, he was in there doing some work. That’s about it.
MT: What are your thoughts on the addition of Blake to the team?
Walton: I think Blake is a great fit for this team and for the triangle offense. I’ve been playing against him since college and have always been a fan of how he plays, the intensity he plays with and his unselfish style.
MT: Didn’t you play against him once in college?
Walton: We beat his Maryland team in (2001-02). They were top five in the country, we had just lost Richard (Jefferson), Gilbert (Arenas) and Loren Woods. Whoever the geniuses are that do the preseason rankings took Arizona out of the Top 25 for the first time in years, and Maryland was No. 3, Florida was top five in the preseason N.I.T. We took them out on back-to-back nights, winning the tournament. Jason Gardner was scoring like 30 points a game, I was doing my thing, Ricky Anderson was playing great with young boys like Channing Frye and Salim Stoudemire. How do you keep that team out of the Top 25? It was the year after we lost to Duke in the championship game. They had actually lost to Duke in the Final Four the game before us.
MT: Although Farmar’s no longer here, I know you also hang out a lot with Odom throughout the season. You mentioned watching some of his Team USA games, and it looks like he’s taken up a key leadership role with the Americans. What’s it like being teammates with him for six seasons now?
Walton: He’s as good a teammate as you can have. He wants to win, he does all the little things. He sacrifices his own personal achievements for the better of the team. He’s always making things fun and is simply a great person, player and teammate that’s a huge reason for our success. It’s just his every day attitude. He’s always in a good mood unless the team needs someone to yell at them, and then he has no problem being vocal and speaking his mind. If times are tough and things aren’t going well for you, he’ll come to your room and sit there and have serious, deep conversations with you. He can read people really well and he knows how to interact differently with different people. I hang out a lot with Lamar, and I’ve seen him do it with his friends and people around him as well. He just always makes things better when he’s around.
MT: We made a big deal out of Odom’s eating candy two seasons ago, but I noticed him eating a lot more fruit before games and on the plane in 2009-10. How has your diet changed since you entered the league?
Walton: You get older, you get wiser, you realize how important it is to not only train and keep your body going but how important it is to keep your body fueled. When you’re younger you just eat whatever is convenient. My diet has changed a lot since when I first got into the NBA. I love good food though, so I’m not just going to eat a salad and chicken every day. I’ll mix it up, but when I mix it up, I’ll make sure to get a side of fruit instead of a side of fries, little stuff like that. I make sure I’m getting the necessary food into my body so I can compete, but I don’t (go crazy with it).
MT: OK, moving on, how important was getting Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson back?
Walton: It’s huge. Obviously you’ve seen the success we’ve had since Fish has been back. Having Phil go for his 4th three-peat is absolutely insane. Knowing that we have both of those guys back really puts us in a confident position, feeling that we should three-peat.
MT: You’ve developed a really good relationship with Phil Jackson over the years; he seems to be an advocate for your style of play especially within the triangle…
Walton: I love playing for Phil. Every year when we have our exit meetings we have good talks, and I always tell him that I’ve learned so much from him and I hope he’ll be back. I know he said this is going to be his last year, but I’m going to try to convince him after this year to come back again. He’s one of the greatest coaches in the history of all sports. Any chance I have to be able to learn from him and grow as a player and a person, I give him all the credit for that. He has that quality to really connect with people, treat everybody differently, motivate people in different ways. Playing for him for so many years now, I’ve adopted a lot of his philosophies, and they make both the game and life a lot easier. Instead of being on a roller coaster, you just take things for what they are and enjoy where you are at the time.
MT: Fair enough. Finally, did you have a good vacation right after the Finals?
Walton: I started my summer with a great vacation. We – myself and a bunch of my guy friends from all home, college, the NBA – went to the World Cup for about a week and checked out a few games. Just an unreal experience. We saw Portugal vs. Spain, and then the Netherlands vs. Slovakia. Then we flew up to France, and our girlfriends all met us out there. We had a big boat there and went to different ports in France and Italy. Then my girlfriend and I flew to Rome for a day, and then flew to Hawaii where my oldest brother got married. I finally came home and started with the serious back rehab after Hawaii. The coolest place we went to was Portofino (a small Italian fishing village). That and Sardinia (second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea) were my favorites. The highlight was obviously going to my brother’s wedding right on the beach in Maui. I made a little speech, as did my other two brothers. It was a really nice wedding.
MT: I’m guessing you had to find some time to monitor your back even while on vacation?
Walton: Every day I was on the road I’d dedicate an hour to doing stretches and back exercises, and keeping it as manageable as possible but knowing that once I got back I’d be full blown doing two to three different kinds of workouts trying to get it all good. It’s working out so far.