Athleticism has a well-documented tendency to run in families. Plenty of examples exist of brothers who have found success playing in professional sports leagues. In some cases — the NBA’s Markieff and Marcus Morris, for example — both play the same sport. In other cases, siblings find success playing in different leagues.
Bill and Bruce Walton are the perfect examples of the latter case. Most people are familiar with Bill Walton, either as one of the legendary NBA players of the ’70s and ’80s or as a beloved television commentator. Fewer remember the NFL career of his brother Bruce.
Bill Walton’s NBA career
The 6’11” Walton was drafted by several American Basketball Association teams while still in college. However, he chose not to make his professional debut until after he had graduated.
At that point, the Portland Trail Blazers snatched him up with the first pick of the 1974 NBA Draft. Injuries limited Walton in his first couple of years — and really for the bulk of his career.
Nonetheless, when healthy he asserted himself as one of the more skilled big men in the game. During the 1976-77 season, he averaged 18.6 points, 14.4 rebounds, and 3.2 blocks per game.
That year he lead the Trail Blazers to a championship victory, earning Finals MVP honors along the way. He was on track to set new personal records the following year, before a broken foot ended his season.
Walton soon left Portland, spending several seasons with the San Diego Clippers, where injuries continued to plague him. In the 1985-86 season, Walton joined a talented Boston Celtics team, contributing to their eventual victory.
When all was said and done, Walton spent 10 active years in the league, earning two All-Star selections, one All-NBA First Team selection, and two NBA All-Defensive First Team selections.
Bruce Walton’s NFL career
Compared to his brother Bill’s, Bruce Walton’s professional sports career was pretty modest. Although Bruce played both basketball and football in high school, he ultimately chose to follow a path in football, spending his college career with the University of California, Los Angeles. The Dallas Cowboys then selected him in the fifth round of the 1973 NFL Draft.
Walton appeared in just seven games as a rookie, playing backup to the tackle and guard positions. Walton played 13 games in each of the following two seasons, mostly filling a backup tackle position.
During the 1975 season, Walton played in Super Bowl X, which the Cowboys lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The following year, injuries finally forced Walton’s early retirement.
Bruce and Bill Walton were always close
The Walton brothers were born and raised in San Diego, California. Bruce was the elder brother. According to Bill, he and his brother enjoyed a perfect childhood. “My dad gave us a trusting environment of freedom to create our life,” Walton said back in 2001 to the New York Times. “I still live there.” That said, their father would not hesitate to use harsh discipline if necessary.
For a while, the two brothers both played for the same high school basketball team. Bill later recalled that Bruce always had his back if an opposing team would try and get too physical with him.
That sense of fondness and loyalty continued to persist throughout their lives, and despite their varying degrees of professional success. When Bruce died in October 2019, Bill said to the San Diego Union Tribune “He was the greatest possible older brother.”