William Theodore “Bill” Walton III was born on 5 November, 1952 in La Mesa, California, USA. Bill Walton is a retired American basketball player and current television sportscaster. The “Big Red-Head”, as he was called, achieved superstardom playing for John Wooden’s powerhouse UCLA Bruins in the early ’70s and winning 3 straight College Player of the Year Awards and went on to have a prominent career in the NBA. Bill Walton was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame on 10 May, 1993 and the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame that same year. Bill Walton is the father of current Los Angeles Lakers forward Luke Walton.
Bill Walton is the son of Gloria Anne (née Hickey) and William Theodore “Ted” Walton. At the age of 17, he played for the United States men’s national basketball team at the 1970 FIBA World Championship.
Bill Walton played college basketball for John Wooden at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) from 1971 to 1974, winning the national title in 1972 over Florida State and again in 1973 with an 87-66 win over Memphis State in which the big redhead from San Diego made an impressive 21 of 22 field goal attempts and scored 44 points. Some regard this as the greatest ever offensive performance in American college basketball. The Walton-led 1971-72 UCLA basketball team had a record of 30-0, in the process winning its games by an average margin of more than 30points. Bill Walton was the backbone of 2 consecutive 30-0 seasons and was also part of UCLA’s NCAA record 88 game winning streak. The UCLA streak contributed to a personal winning streak that lasted almost 5 years, in which Bill Walton’s high school, UCLA freshman (freshmen were ineligible for the varsity at that time), and UCLA varsity teams did not lose a game from the middle of his junior year of high school to the middle of his senior year in college.
Bill Walton was the 1973 recipient of the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States. Bill Walton also received the USBWA College Player of the Year and Naismith College Player of the Year as the top college basketball player in the country 3 years in a row while attending UCLA, at the same time earning Academic All-American honours 3 times. Some college basketball historians rate Bill Walton as the greatest who ever played the game at the college level. In Bill Walton’s senior year during the 1973-74 season, the school’s 88 game winning streak ended with a 71-70 loss to Notre Dame. Coincidentally, the Bruins’ last loss was to Notre Dame and Austin Carr in 1971 (89-81). Bill Walton admits the loss to Notre Dame (coached by Digger Phelps) to end the 88-game streak still bothers him more than any other loss in his career. During the same season, UCLA’s record 7 consecutive national titles was broken when North Carolina State defeated the Bruins 80-77 in double overtime in the NCAA semi-finals. With Bill Walton’s graduation in 1974 and legendary Bruin coach John Wooden’s retirement after UCLA’s 1975 national title, the unprecedented UCLA dynasty came to an end.
Bill Walton was drafted number 1 overall by the Portland Trail Blazers and was hailed as the saviour of the franchise. Bill Walton’s 1st 2 seasons were marred by injury (at different times he broke his nose, foot, wrist and leg) and the Blazers missed the playoffs both years. It was not until the 1976-77 season that he was healthy enough to play 65 games and, spurred by new head coach Jack Ramsay, the Trail Blazers became the Cinderella team of the NBA. Bill Walton led the NBA in both rebounds per game and blocked shots per game that season and he was selected to the NBA All-Star Game but did not participate due to an injury. Bill Walton was named to the NBA’s 1st All-Defensive Team and the All-NBA 2nd Team for his regular season accomplishments. In the postseason, Bill Walton led Portland to a sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in the conference finals (famously outplaying Kareem Abdul-Jabbar during the series) and went on to help the Trail Blazers to the NBA title over the favoured Philadelphia 76ers despite losing the 1st 2 games of the series. Bill Walton was named the Finals MVP.
The following year, the Blazers won 50 of their 1st 60 games before Bill Walton suffered a broken foot in what turned out to be the 1st in a string of foot and ankle injuries that cut short his career. Bill Walton nonetheless won the league MVP that season (1978) and the Sporting News NBA MVP, as well. Bill Walton played in his only All-Star Game in 1978 and was named to both the NBA’s 1st All-Defensive Team and the All-NBA 1st Team. Bill Walton returned to action for the playoffs but was reinjured in the 2nd game of a series against the Seattle SuperSonics. Without Bill Walton to lead them, Portland lost the series to Seattle in 6 games. As it turned out, Bill Walton would never play for the Trail Blazers again. During the offseason, Bill Walton demanded to be traded, citing unethical and incompetent treatment of his and other players’ injuries by the Blazers’ front office. Bill Walton did not get his wish and sat out the 1978-79 season in protest, signing with the San Diego Clippers when he became a free agent in 1979.
Bill Walton spent several seasons alternating between the court and the disabled list with his hometown San Diego Clippers. After the 1984-85 campaign, Bill Walton called on 2 of the league’s premier teams, the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. After several players on the Celtics said they liked the idea of having Bill Walton as a teammate backing up Robert Parish and Kevin McHale, Red Auerbach made the deal happen. One anecdote that particularly illustrates Bill Walton’s decision to choose the Boston Celtics over the Los Angeles Lakers is about Larry Bird, who happened to be in Auerbach’s office when Bill Walton called and said that if Bill Walton felt healthy enough to play that it was good enough for him, as opposed to Los Angeles Lakers GM Jerry West, who was hedging his interest in Bill Walton pending a doctor’s report. Boston Celtics acquired Bill Walton by sending popular forward Cedric Maxwell to the San Diego Clippers along with a 1st-round draft pick. Providing a reliable backup to Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, Bill Walton received the NBA 6th Man Award that season en route to the NBA Championship, becoming the only player to have ever won an NBA Finals MVP, 6th Man Award, and regular season MVP. Bill Walton is the last player to win a 6th Man Award the same year he played on an NBA Champion-winning team.
Bill Walton injured himself again the following season, but returned for the 1987 playoffs. Bill Walton spent the 1987-88 season on the injured list. Bill Walton attempted a comeback in February 1990, but injury intervened and he retired from the game. Bill Walton’s ankle problems became so severe years later that he had both his ankles surgically fused. Bill Walton’s saga of injury and failed rehabs was connected to the use of pain killers by the doctor who was assigned to his case. Bill Walton has said repeatedly in his broadcasts that he is just as much to blame for taking the medication as the doctor was for giving it to him. Yet his experience with injuries and the circumstances surrounding them have come to serve as a warning for professional athletes who undergo major injury as well as being an interesting case study for medical ethics. Bill Walton’s injuries, along with his 1978-1979 year-long protest, gave him an unpleasant, if not odd, record. Bill Walton holds the record for the most games missed during an NBA playing career, when taking into account the number of years he was officially listed as a player on a team roster.
Bill Walton was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 1993, and had his number 32 retired by the Blazers in 1989. In 1996, he was named as one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players of all time.
Since his retirement as a player, Bill Walton has overcome a severe stuttering problem to become a successful and controversial NBA colour commentator for NBC(1990-2002), Los Angeles Clippers (1990-2002) and ABC/ESPN (since 2002).
Bill Walton’s trademark catchphrases include, “That’s a terrible call! Terrible,” “Where in the world is [x]?” (for a player who has disappeared from a game), “What is a foul?”, “Dial a violation,” “He couldn’t even inbound the ball!”, “Throw it down, big man! Throw it down!”, and “Basketball is a game played by men competing for the ultimate prize”. In addition after a predominantly one-handed player makes a basket going to his strong hand Bill Walton will summarize the action and then say, “He’s left-handed by the way Marv” or “Someone should tell player x that player y is left-handed and promises to be so for the remainder of the game,” intimating that perhaps the defender should defend that side of the player. Bill Walton typically is paired up with Steve “Snapper” Jones for NBA games due to him and Steve Jones having a point-counterpoint banter during games. Despite their frequent on-air argumentative banter they are actually good friends as was evidenced in Bill Walton’s short lived 2003 TV series Bill Walton’s Long Strange Trip.
In addition, his commentary during games is notable for his frequent use of hyperbole. In one instance where Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs had a pass deflected out of bounds by a defender, Bill Walton stated, “Tony Parker just made the worst pass in the history of Western civilization!” Often this is done to intentional or perhaps unintentional comedic effect. Bill Walton also is rumoured to have challenged Marv Albert to a wrestling cage match and was considered “out of line” for the provocation. During one game he announced, Bill Walton stated, “I am the hero, I am No. 1, I can go in there and shake and bake all those youngins and teach them some real basketball so they can stop their complaining”.
Bill Walton currently resides in his hometown of San Diego with his wife Lori. Bill Walton and his 1st wife, Susie, have 4 sons: Adam, Nathan, Luke, and Chris. Luke, although not as tall as his father, played collegiately for the University of Arizona and now plays for the Los Angeles Lakers as a forward. Another of Bill Walton’s sons, Chris, played for San Diego State University. Nate, his middle son, played basketball at Princeton University but then entered the corporate world and earned his MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. (Bill Walton himself attended Stanford Law School for 2 years but never graduated.) Nate was also on the ballot for the 2003 California Recall Election, receiving 1,697 votes. Bill Walton’s other son, Adam, also played NCAA basketball at LSU.
Bill Walton is also a well-known fan of the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers Band, Neil Young, Phish, and Bob Dylan. Bill Walton attended more than 650 Grateful Dead concerts, including traveling with the band to Egypt for its famous 1978 performance before the Pyramids (joining the band on drums), quotes Dead lyrics in TV and radio interviews. To fellow Deadheads, Bill Walton is fondly known as “Grateful Red” and the “Big Red Deadhead” and “World’s Tallest Deadhead”. In the video for “Touch of Grey”, Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart is wearing a Celtics jacket that was given to him by Bill Walton. In 2001, Bill Walton was officially inducted into The Grateful Dead Hall of Honour.
Bill Walton expounds upon his music interests on his own satellite radio show, One More Saturday Night (named after the Dead song “One More Saturday Night”), heard during late prime time on Sirius Radio’s Jam On channel. Bill Walton has stated in his online introduction to his radio show column that he enjoys going to concerts alone because then he has fewer things in between him and reaching the omega point that all concert goers seek at shows.
Bill Walton still has a committed relationship with the Boston Celtics, if not professionally, as a fan. Despite the area where he grew up, and the team his son Luke plays for, Bill Walton is careful to point out, “Even though I grew up in the heart of Laker country, the Boston Celtics were always MY team”. Bill Walton also keeps a picture of the floor of the old Boston Garden in his kitchen.
In June 2008, he was asked by ESPN to predict the outcome of the NBA finals matchup between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, their 1st meeting in the finals since 1987, his 2nd and final as player for Boston Celtics. Bill Walton predicted the Boston Celtics would take the series in 6 games, a prediction that came true on 17th of that month.
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