NBA all-time great Bill Walton just might be the most interesting man in sports. His exploits on the court were legendary, yet he still might be underrated. Walton’s Herculean efforts on the court might only be matched by his equivalent off-the-chain energy in his personal life.
From his best years with the Portland Trail Blazers, to his redemption tour with the Boston Celtics, Walton always drew attention. His dense history of injuries only highlighted how crucial he was to his teams. Today, a whole generation knows him primarily as a fantastic broadcaster. Here’s how Walton took on the many challenges of his life and carved out a career against adversity.
How Bill Walton made it to the NBA
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Walton didn’t grow up in a home with any interest in sports. His parents and siblings took to art, literature, and music. But they supported Walton’s emerging interest in sports wholeheartedly.
That support provided the structure and direction for Walton to emerge as a high school center, fielding countless offers. There wasn’t ever much question where he’d end up, though. As a youth, his coaches were disciples of one man: UCLA coach and a legend in his own right, John Wooden.
A dedicated anti-war activist, Walton idolized Muhammad Ali as the model for a principled athlete. He put those convictions to the test. His coach, Wooden had to bail him out of jail after a protest landed him there. This, in the midst of a run at UCLA that turned both Walton and Wooden into rare college sports figures with national fame.
The pair won two NCAA championships together. Walton regrets that he didn’t ground his big personality for the sake of winning even more with Wooden. “You never get over it,” he told GQ. “I have this what could have been, what should have been fantastic. But every encounter I have with a UCLA alum, I have to apologize that we did not get it done.”
Walton’s long run of painful injuries
The boisterous center was a no-doubter for the 1974 NBA draft. He was picked first overall by the Blazers. By 1977, he was the difference-maker leading Portland to an NBA Finals win.
His second phase in the NBA, with the LA Clippers, was where things took a turn. Walton was injury-prone only in the sense that he got hurt often, but played through it. In the NBA, with years of playing behind him, injuries took on a different weight. He went through 37 orthopedic surgeries as injuries like a fractured foot spiraled out into causing other chronic issues, reports WBUR.
This kept Walton unhealthy and often benched throughout his time with the Clippers. Eventually, he managed to regain some semblance of normalcy. He was traded to the Boston Celtics in 1985 and regained much of his step. In part, this was because he had learned to play through a fog of chronic pain. His second season in Boston, he played through it and helped win the 1986 NBA Finals. He played one more season before retiring from the NBA for good.
Walton’s path from lifelong stuttering to beloved broadcaster
Walton is as synonymous with entertaining, on-the-ball announcing as he is with basketball greatness. He’s seemingly a natural on the mic. Consider: Chicago White Sox fans were treated with a hilarious, energetic special appearance. It turned a largely unremarkable game into an instant, permanent part of the team’s broadcasting lore.
This effortless style actually formed as the result of immense effort on Walton’s part. For his entire life, unbeknownst to many of his fans, he had a stutter. According to The Stuttering Foundation, he didn’t consider broadcasting to be a part of his future because of it. That is, until he met Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Glickman.
Glickman took Walton under his wing, reports the D’Amelio Network. He passed along several crucial tips that Walton credits with drastically limiting his stutter. Much of it comes down to developing confidence, not letting stutters make you skip a beat. Today, Walton is a beloved presence on many ESPN broadcasts.