Remembering Bill Walton: A Legend On and Off the Court

Monday evening on PTI, in closing his appreciation of the now departed Bill Walton, Michael Wilbon said, “Everybody’s got a story.”

To that, I can attest.

In 1991, still recovering from a major injury after being hit by a car while jogging, I finally made it to Freedom Hall for some Cardinal hoops, with crutches. I was struggling down the steps to my seat when Bill Walton, who was doing the game on TV, came walking up the aisle.

He stopped and asked what happened, and how I was doing.

Walton knew about surgeries. He reportedly had 39. Foot problems. Leg problems. A broken back. He knew pain—until the end, it is said—and such was his nature, he wanted to offer words of encouragement.

Which he did

It was not gratuitous. He spent several minutes chatting with me before he moved on.

Everybody’s got a story.

To that, I can attest.

A Decent and Fascinating Fellow

What is clear from every comment in the hours after the news broke is that Bill Walton was an eminently decent fellow. Caring. Interesting. Inquisitive. Intelligent. Always ask others how they are doing.

And, as anybody who watched a game, he was commentating knows, especially the ones with straight man Dave Pasch, Walton seemed to be from an alternative universe, or at least another planet.

I’ll admit it took a while to enjoy a game he was covering, he was an acquired taste. I finally succumbed to his childlike charm and enthusiasm. Cherished it.

What a fascinating guy.

What an incredible basketball player.
Source: Bill Walton

Hall of Famer

A Legendary Player

Inarguably, he’s one of the greatest college basketball players ever, arguably topping the list. In the NCAA title game against Memphis State, he is credited with making 21 of 22 shots. This is true, but not the whole stat line actually. He dunked four more which were waived off because of the silly anti-Alcindor no-dunk rule then in place.

Hooks. Turnarounds. Layups.

Sure, 6-8 Ronnie Robinson was no match. But, in a title game, 25/26 against Red Klotz would be impressive.

The Bruins didn’t win the title one season during Walton’s three years. In the four-part 30 for 30 on Walton—watch it—he offers an explanation.

The Wooden Years

It was the early 70s. Like most his age, Walton and some of his teammates were getting stoned. Apparently, the overbearingly tight-assed John Wooden caught wind of it. One day before practice, the coach confronted several players, saving Walton for last.

PG Greg Lee foolishly and naively admitted he did partake. Wooden removed him from the team. So, when Wooden asked Walton if he smoked marijuana, his center responded, “Coach, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Walton remained firm in his belief that UCLA would have beaten North Carolina State and won the title had Lee still been on the team.

A Poetic Ending

Everybody’s got stories.

Including Walton himself.

That he passed away the day after the last league game in his beloved Conference of Champions is almost too poetic.

Bill Walton, is known to have attended a Dead show or two, Long May You Dance.

Conclusion

Bill Walton’s legacy extends far beyond his on-court achievements. He was a man who faced adversity with grace, and his kindness left a lasting impression on all who met him. As we remember him, it’s clear that the stories of his life and career will continue to inspire and entertain for generations to come.

Mohammed Rizwan

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