Bill Walton’s either your favorite or most despised announcer. There’s no middle ground. Walton’s an NBA Champion, NCAA Champion, and is a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. His pedigree alone shouts respect. And yet, he’s one of the most disrespected basketball community members. He’s treated like an accepted, ostracized hooper rather than a commentator. He may be different, but different takes courage. Here are three reasons why the Big Red Head is a legend.
1. NBA Pedigree
When the casual basketball fan thinks of a champion, the same names always pop up – Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and the Kobe Bryant-LeBron James combination.
And while all of these players won titles in the NBA, Walton’s a champion in his own right.
His college prowess has been long documented, but his professional career is overlooked.
He won the NBA MVP Award in 1977-78, is a two-time champion, and won a Finals MVP with the Portland Trail Blazers during their title run.
If it weren’t for injuries, he likely would’ve proven to be one of the most versatile big men of all time.
Dr. Jack Ramsay, Walton’s Blazers coach, stated, “Bill Russell was a great shot blocker. Wilt Chamberlain was a great offensive player. But Walton can do it all.”
He averaged 18.6 PPG, 14.4 REB, and 3.2 blocks during Portland’s championship run.
He was also named ALL-NBA Second Team and ALL-NBA First Team Defense.
For all of you hating, check the resume.
2. College Pedigree
If it wasn’t for his teammate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lew Alcindor), Walton could be considered the greatest college basketball player in history.
Bleacher Report has him at No.4 on their list.
In three years at UCLA, he finished with an 86-4 record and won two National Championships.
And he wasn’t just a product of their system.
In the 1973 Championship Game, he missed one shot and scored 44 points, and four more didn’t count due to offensive goaltending.
He finished with 44 points, 13 rebounds, and one block. He shot a remarkable 21-22 from the field.
But this proved the norm throughout his college tenure.
He was named the National Player of the Year in 1972, 73, and 74.
At the time, Denny Crum, Louisville’s coach, had the following to say about Walton: “The only way to beat UCLA is to keep Walton from getting the ball, and there’s really no way to do it.”
There’s only 32 men’s players in the history of hoops who’ve won both a professional and collegiate title, and he’s one of them.
He consistently averaged about 20 points and 15 boards in his time with the Bruins.
3. Be Yourself
It’s easy to make fun of him. Saturday Night Live’s James Austin Johnson recently did an impersonation of him on “Weekend Update” that felt disrespectful.
The difference between imitating Bill versus others is Bill is Bill.
And he stands for what he believes in.
During his college years in the ’70s, “he was arrested for participating in an anti-Vietnam war rally, wore flannel shirts, publicly criticized the president, and was a vegetarian.”
This took courage, particularly in an era where conservative values were preferred.
Even his head coach couldn’t quite understand him. John Wooden said the following about Walton, “I worried when he was thrown in jail with the group that took over the administration building, I worried when he stopped traffic on Wilshire Boulevard, and when he interrupted classes giving his views on the Vietnam War.”
Agree or disagree, he took action. And this is more than most
He’s a wise human who deserves respect.
Bill may talk about the universe a lot, but it’s a better place because of him.