Wednesday, November 5th is the birthday of former Portland Trail Blazers legend Bill Walton. He turns 72. Many of the older fans of the Blazers are familiar with the big redhead’s affinity for team basketball, his defensive and rebounding prowess, and his otherworldly passing skills. Unfortunately, he’s also remembered for being perpetually injured, both during his Portland days and later on in his NBA life.
The two years he was healthy, however, saw Bill Walton hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy as an NBA champion.
When discussing Walton, you have to keep in mind that he’s a deep and complex individual. Such individuals are correspondingly complex to write about or discuss, especially, in Walton’s case, for someone from Portland. His time here saw him achieve both sports glory and suffer sports tragedy, both at the highest possible highs and the lowest of lows.
David Halberstam, recognized as the greatest basketball writer ever, used the late-70s era Trail Blazers as the subject for his magnum opus, The Breaks of the Game. I’ve never read the book, mostly because Walton himself has never read it. Walton is perhaps the most introspective, thoughtful athlete ever (except perhaps his nemesis, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), yet he finds it impossible to read a book about himself.
When Bill Simmons, who used an interview with Walton as the epilogue in The Book of Basketball, asked him why, Walton said that it was a very special time of his life. He also said, grimly, “I know how it ended.”
How it ended was multiple foot injuries, a malpractice suit brought by Walton against the Trail Blazers on behalf of himself and several of his teammates claiming Portland provided inadequate medical care for their players, and Walton sitting out the entire 1978-79 season in protest when the Blazers refused to trade him.