Blue Heron in flight

Monday, May 27, 2024

Fare thee well, Bill

"Bill Walton is the best player for a big man who ever played the game of basketball." Philadelphia 76er Coach Gene Shue

I was sad and surprised to see that Bill Walton had died. Of cancer. I had no idea he was ill. Walton had the greatest career of any college center, he was incredibly dominant while at UCLA. 

But he might have been even more impressive in high school, at Helix High in La Mesa.

As a senior in 1969–70, Walton made 384 of 490 shot attempts, 78.3 percent, still the all-time national record. In addition, Walton's 825 rebounds that season ranks No 3 all-time. His 25.0 rebounds per game in a season ranks No. 7 all-time.

Walton played for UCLA under Coach Wooden from 1971 to 1974. His older brother Bruce played football at UCLA, enrolling a year ahead of Bill. Bill Walton led the Bruins to two consecutive 30–0 seasons and the NCAA men's basketball record 88-game winning streak. The UCLA streak contributed to a personal winning streak that lasted almost five years, in which 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.

Walton was drafted into the NBA in 1974 and led Portland to the championship in 1977. He was plagued by bad knees and injuries but used his intelligence and superior passing ability to make his teammates better.

I got to know Bill Walton when he played for the San Diego Clippers. But we never talked basketball, just about the Grateful Dead concerts we were going to. I remember having a long protracted conversation in the upper rows of the Sports Arena before one game.

He loved the dead and was a member of the inner circle. 

If you were unfortunate you would be sitting right behind him, happened to us once or twice at Shoreline, his massive bulk blotting out the stage like a dark star.

He was a great athlete and a better human being, a man who conquered his stuttering and became an able public speaker.

Long may you run, Bill Walton.


RoxAnn said...

Mick and I were shocked as well hearing of his passing. What a gem of a guy. Very sad day for San Diego. I was at a Willie Nelson concert at Humphreys a few years ago and we noticed this very tall guy towards the front in a Hawaiian shirt dancing, arms in the air and having a grand time. You couldn’t miss him. It was Bill Walton. Very cool memory. The concert itself was forgettable, but seeing Bill Walton was the highlight.

Blue Heron said...

Sad to hear of Bill Walton's passing. Loved watching his career, enjoyed his one of a kind sportscasting style after overcoming stuttering, and got a jolt of pleasure anytime I saw him towering over the rest of the bicycle pack cruising around North County. His being a Dead Head connected that world and sports fandom as part of the same bigger cultural world during a period of cultural disconnect for me and probably others as well. His honesty and sharing about the hard parts of his life and continuing positivity were his greatest legacy, IMO.