Monday, May 08, 2006

Bill Walton

In 1977, I had been in bakery business, at Richard’s Bakery in Tualatin, Oregon, for about a year, as the NBA season was drawing near. Having been a jock in my youth, and also influenced by my friends and family, I thought it would be a kick to get a couple of season tickets for the Portland Trailblazers, call’em a business expense, give a few away to my salesmen and other business associates, that sorta thing, and also, go watch the games a bunch myself.

NBA tickets have always been exorbitantly expensive, just like any fun thing to do, and in 1977, though they were cheap by today’s standards, I can remember I had to bite a couple of bullets to get it done without freaking out. I called the ticket office, and opted for tickets that were rather high up in the stands, which I could actually afford, sort of on the borderline between nosebleed and brain hemorhage. A few days later, a whole pile of tickets arrived, and I held them in my grubby little hands, two tickets for every frickin’ Blazer home game, 1977. Suh-weet!

That year, the Trailblazers were good. With several excellent journeyman players, including the “enforcer”, power forward Maurice Lucas, and led by former All-American UCLA center Bill Walton, the Blazers were unstoppable. When Bill Walton wasn’t stuffing the ball through the hoop, he was making insanely precise unselfish passes to his teammates, Larry Steele, Bob Gross, Dave Twardzik, Kermit Washington, and others. It was so much fun to watch these guys play. In 1977 NBA parlance, they ruled the maples. And big Bill Walton, when he was healthy, was probably the best center to ever play the game. Okay I’m a Portland guy so I rank him over Jabbar, Russell, all of them. If you saw this team play, regularly, and watched Walton grab the boards and send the most perfect bullet outlet pass to one of his teammates on the break, over and over, like a machine, you’d be a believer too. In 1977, the first year I was a season ticket holder, The Blazers won the NBA championship, by beating the Dr. J (Julius Irving) led Philadelphia 76ers, in the seventh game, at home. I was there. It was awesome.

Bill Walton was injured now and then, and his legs tended to be finicky, one ankle in particular. He was forced to play through the pain a lot. But the local papers made a big to do about his health, since he was a vegetarian, how his diet was hurting his play, and the team, on and on. Bill stuttered a bit, didn’t talk much. The papers also picked up on his hippie lifestyle, and he had a fat red beard, and then there was this time he was somehow connected with the Patty Hearst thing, because he was a friend of a friend, and he was not opposed to smokin’ pot, and he loved The Grateful Dead, and followed them around now and then, so the talented NBA star Bill Walton was a bit challenging to some people, even in tree-huggin’ Portland. He left the NBA in 1988, after a final season with the Boston Celtics.

I personally did not hear much about Bill Walton after that, until I noticed, in about 2000, that he was beginning to emerge as a basketball broadcaster, providing color commentary on some televised NBA games. Having known that Bill was a bit of a stutterer, back in the day, it sorta blew my mind, when I saw him eloquently and brilliantly provide the patter behind some play by play guy. Bill is one great sportscaster, with a smooth and intelligent delivery, and I offer him my heartfelt congratulations for a job well done.

So those of you who accuse me of choosing, shall we say, off the wall song topics, um, you got me on this one. In 2001 I wrote and recorded “The Bill Walton Song”, which I sent to Bill, and received a nice reply, altho I must say he should really make his producers play it over one of his broadcasts as they go to commercial, which would please me greatly.

“The Bill Walton Song” appears on my 2002 CD, “Useful Information”. The guitar parts, and the killer guitar solo, are played so capably (as usual) by my pal Tim Ellis. Listen free here

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Pacific Beach, Washington, United States