When speaking, writing, or thinking about Bill Walton, in a pure basketball sense, the first thing that comes to mind is injury. Seemingly unrelenting injury. The pain he suffered and the games he missed are staggering.
During a career that lasted from the 1974-75 season until the 1986-87 season, Walton conceivably could have played 1066 games. In actuality he played in just 468. He missed the entirety of three seasons, played less than 41 games in four more, and from March 1978 through March 1983, he played in a grand total of 47 games. By Walton’s own estimation, he has endured 36 orthopedic surgeries throughout his life.
So bearing all that in mind, Bill Walton’s triumphs are still something that few players can claim to have conjured in their imaginations, let alone actually achieved.
He’s been the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, a Finals MVP, Sixth Man of the Year, a member of the All-NBA and All-Defensive 1st Teams, won two NBA titles, and including his college awards would just make this lengthy list too long to continue.
Walton was perhaps the greatest team player in basketball history aside from Bill Russell. The 6’11” center was always contemplating how he could lift his team to new heights. Big scoring nights were possible with Walton, but he was more interested in any kind of big night that would deliver the win. If it meant block parties at the rim, then so be it. Bushels of assists to set up teammates for easy baskets? Get on board with that, too. Control the glass and limit the opposition to one shot opportunity, and a bad one at that? You bet your bottom dollar Walton would enjoy that, as well.
Bill Walton would also be the first man to admit that he played on great teams and had great teammates. Maurice Lucas, Dave Twardzik, Lionel Hollins in Portland… Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale in Boston. It’s no accident he played on two of the greatest passing teams ever seen. Teams that despite (actually because of) all that passing never had a single man average over 7 assists per game. Walton relished being on a winner, whether it was as the gracious headliner in Portland or as the grateful backup brought back from the dead in Boston.
For all that success, though, Walton’s career still produced an inordinate amount of pain. The foot injuries, the acrimonious split with the Blazers, the wasted time with the San Diego Clippers, the all too brief resurgence with the Celtics… Bill Walton’s NBA life is one that astounds, perplexes, and most of all reminds that great talent can scuttled by a myriad of unfair, undeserved reasons. But Walton’s seven-year journey from the scrapheap to the 1986 NBA title inserts within us the notion that even the most dire of circumstances, when met with determination and resolve, can still have the most majestic of moments.
Years Played: 1974 – 1986
2x Champion (1977, 1986)
Finals MVP (1977)
Sixth Man of the Year (1986)
All-NBA 1st Team (1978), All-NBA 2nd Team (1977)
2x All-Defensive 1st Team (1977-’78)
NBA - 468 Games
13.3 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 3.4 APG, 2.2 BPG, 0.8 SPG, 52.1% FG, 66.0% FT
RPG Leader (1977), BPG Leader (1977)
Contemporary NBA Ranks (1974-75 through 1985-86)
87th Points, 25th FG%
11th Blocks, 3rd BPG
31st Rebounds, 10th RPG
67th Assists, 40th APG
87th Games Played, 93 Minutes Played