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William Theodore "Bill" Walton III (born November 5, 1952) is a retired American basketball player and television sportscaster. The “Big Red-Head”, as he was called, achieved superstardom playing for John Wooden's powerhouse UCLA Bruins in the early '70s, winning three straight College Player of the Year Awards. He then went on to have a prominent career in the NBA, which was significantly hampered by multiple foot injuries. Walton was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Famemarker on May 10, 1993 and the Oregon Sports Hall of Famemarker that same year. He is the father of current Los Angeles Lakers forward Luke Walton.

Early life and college career

Walton was born in La Mesamarker, Californiamarker, the son of Gloria Anne (née Hickey) and William Theodore "Ted" Walton. At the age of 17, he played for the United States men's national basketball team at the 1970 FIBA World Championship.

He played college basketball for John Wooden at the University of California, Los Angelesmarker (UCLA) from 1971 to 1974, winning the national title in 1972 over Florida Statemarker and again in 1973 with an 87-66 win over Memphis Statemarker in which Walton made an impressive 21 of 22 field goal attempts and scored 44 points. Some regard this as the greatest offensive performance in American college basketball history. The Walton-led 1971-72 UCLA basketball team had a record of 30-0, in the process winning its games by an average margin of more than 30 points. He was the backbone of two consecutive 30-0 seasons and was also part of UCLA's NCAA 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.

Bill Walton was the 1973 recipient of the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States. Walton also received the USBWA College Player of the Year and Naismith College Player of the Year as the top college basketball player in the country three years in a row while attending UCLA, at the same time earning Academic All-American honors three times. Some college basketball historians rate Walton as the greatest who ever played the game at the college level. In Bill Walton's senior year during the 1973-74 season, the school's 88 game winning streak ended with a 71-70 loss to the University of Notre Damemarker Fighting Irish. Coincidentally, the Bruins' last loss prior to the start of the 88 game winning streak was also to Notre Dame in 1971 (89-81). Walton admits the loss to Notre Dame to end the 88-game streak still bothers him more than any other loss in his career. During the same season, UCLA's record seven consecutive national titles was broken when North Carolina Statemarker defeated the Bruins 80-77 in double overtime in the NCAA semi-finals. With Walton's graduation in 1974 and legendary Bruin coach John Wooden's retirement after UCLA's 1975 national title, the unprecedented UCLA dynasty came to an end.

NBA career

Entering the National Basketball Association (NBA), Walton was drafted number one overall by the Portland Trail Blazers and was hailed as the savior of the franchise. His first two seasons were marred by injury (at different times he broke his nose, foot, wrist and leg) and the Blazers missed the playoffs both years. It was not until the 1976-77 season that he was healthy enough to play 65 games and, spurred by new head coach Jack Ramsay, the Trail Blazers became the Cinderella team of the NBA. Walton led the NBA in both rebounds per game and blocked shots per game that season, and he was selected to the NBA All-Star Game, but did not participate due to an injury. Walton was named to the NBA's First All-Defensive Team and the All-NBA Second Team for his regular season accomplishments. In the postseason, Walton led Portland to a sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in the conference finals (famously outplaying Kareem Abdul-Jabbar during the series) and went on to help the Trail Blazers to the NBA title over the favored Philadelphia 76ers despite losing the first two games of the series. Walton was named the Finals MVP.

The following year, the Blazers won 50 of their first 60 games before Walton suffered a broken foot in what turned out to be the first in a string of foot and ankle injuries that cut short his career. He nonetheless won the league NBA Most Valuable Player Award (MVP) that season (1978) and the Sporting News NBA MVP, as well. He played in his only All-Star Game in 1978 and was named to both the NBA's First All-Defensive Team and the All-NBA First Team. Walton returned to action for the playoffs, but was reinjured in the second game of a series against the Seattle SuperSonics. Without Walton to lead them, Portland lost the series to Seattle in six games. As it turned out, Walton would never play for the Trail Blazers again. During the offseason, Walton demanded to be traded, citing unethical and incompetent treatment of his and other players' injuries by the Blazers' front office. He did not get his wish and sat out the 1978-79 season in protest, signing with the San Diego Clippers when he became a free agent in 1979.

Walton spent several seasons alternating between the court and the disabled list with his hometown San Diego Clippers. After the 1984-85 campaign, Walton called on two of the league's premier teams, the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. After several players on the Celtics said they liked the idea of having Walton as a teammate backing up Robert Parish and Kevin McHale, Red Auerbach made the deal happen. One anecdote that particularly illustrates Walton's decision to choose the Celtics over the Lakers involves Larry Bird, who happened to be in Auerbach's office when Walton called. Bird said that if Walton felt healthy enough to play that it was good enough for him, as opposed to Lakers GM Jerry West, who was hedging his interest in Walton pending a doctor's report. Boston acquired Walton by sending popular forward Cedric Maxwell to the Clippers along with a first-round draft pick. Providing a reliable backup to McHale and Parish, Walton played in a career-high 80 games and received the NBA Sixth Man Award that season en route to the NBA Championship, becoming the only player to have ever won an NBA Finals MVP, Sixth Man Award, and regular season MVP.

Walton injured himself again the following season, but returned for the 1987 playoffs. He spent the 1987-88 season on the injured list. He attempted a comeback in February 1990, but injury intervened and he retired from the game. His ankle problems became so severe years later that he had both his ankles surgically fused. His saga of injury and failed rehabs was connected to the use of pain killers by the doctor who was assigned to his case. Walton has said repeatedly in his broadcasts that he is just as much to blame for taking the medication as the doctor was for giving it to him. Yet his experience with injuries and the circumstances surrounding them have come to serve as a warning for professional athletes who undergo major injury, as well as being an interesting case study for medical ethics. His injuries, along with his 1978-1979 year-long protest, gave him an unpleasant, if not odd, record. Walton holds the record for the most games missed during an NBA playing career, when taking into account the number of years he was officially listed as a player on a team roster.

He was inducted into both the NBA Hall of Fame and the Oregon Sports Hall of Famemarker in 1993. Walton also had his number 32 retired by the Blazers in 1989. His number 32 was also retired at UCLA, in a joint ceremony with fellow Bruin legend, number 33 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lew Alcindor) and he is also enshrined in the UCLA Hall of Fame. In 1996, he was named as one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players of all time. He was added to the San Diego Hall of Champions in 1990.


After his retirement as a player, Walton overcame a severe stuttering problem to become a successful and controversial NBA color commentator for NBC (1990-2002), Los Angeles Clippers (1990-2002) and ABC/ESPN (2002-2009).
Walton in July 2008
Walton's trademark catchphrases included, "That's a terrible call! Terrible," "Where in the world is [x]?" (for a player who has disappeared from a game), "What is a foul?", "Dial a violation," "He couldn't even inbound the ball!", "Throw it down, big man! Throw it down!", and "Basketball is a game played by men competing for the ultimate prize". After a predominantly one-handed player made a basket going to his strong hand, Walton would often summarize the action and then say, "He's left-handed by the way Marv" or "Someone should tell player |x| that player |y| is left-handed and promises to be so for the remainder of the game," intimating that perhaps the defender should have defended that side of the player. In addition, his commentary during games is notable for his frequent use of hyperbole. Walton typically was paired up with Steve "Snapper" Jones for NBA games due to him and Jones having a point-counterpoint banter during games. Despite their frequent on-air argumentative banter they are actually good friends, as was evidenced in Bill Walton's short lived 2003 TV series Bill Walton's Long Strange Trip.

After nineteen years working in broadcasting, he announced his retirement on ESPN on November 2, 2009.

Personal life

Luke Walton, son of Bill Walton
Walton currently resides in his hometown of San Diego with his wife Lori. He and his first wife, Susie, have four sons: Adam, Nathan, Luke, and Chris. Luke, although not as tall as his father, played at the collegiate level for the University of Arizonamarker and now plays for the Los Angeles Lakers as a small forward, a team with whom he won the 2009 NBA Finals, making them the third father-son pair to have both won an NBA championship. Another of Walton's sons, Chris, played for San Diego State Universitymarker. Nate, his middle son, played basketball at Princeton Universitymarker but then entered the corporate world and earned his MBA from Stanford Universitymarker's Graduate School of Business. (Bill Walton himself attended Stanford Law School for two years but never graduated.) Nate was also on the ballot for the 2003 California Recall Election, receiving 1,697 votes. Walton's other son, Adam, also played NCAA basketball at Louisiana State University.

Walton is also a well-known fan of the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers Band, Neil Young, Phish, and Bob Dylan. He attended more than 650 Grateful Dead concerts, including traveling with the band to Egyptmarker for its famous 1978 performance before the Pyramids (joining the band on drums), quotes Dead lyrics in TV and radio interviews. To fellow Deadheads, Walton is fondly known as "Grateful Red" and the "Big Red Deadhead" and "World's Tallest Deadhead". In the video for "Touch of Grey", Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart is wearing a Celtics jacket that was given to him by Walton. In 2001, Bill Walton was officially inducted into The Grateful Dead Hall of Honor.

Walton expounds upon his music interests on his own satellite radio show, One More Saturday Night (named after the Dead song "One More Saturday Night"), heard during late prime time on Sirius Radio's Jam On channel. Walton has stated in his online introduction to his radio show column that he enjoys going to concerts alone because then he has fewer things in between him and reaching the omega point that all concert goers seek at shows.

Walton still has a committed relationship with the Celtics, if not professionally, as a fan. Despite the area where he grew up, and the team his son Luke plays for, Walton is careful to point out, "Even though I grew up in the heart of Laker country, the Celtics were always MY team". He also keeps a picture of the floor of the old Boston Gardenmarker in his kitchen.

In 1990, Walton was also inducted by the San Diego Hall of Champions into the Breitbard Hall of Fame honoring San Diego's finest athletes both on and off the playing surface.

In popular culture

Walton is mentioned in the comedy film Airplane! In one scene, a boy is invited into the cockpit of a jetliner, and claims that the co-pilot (played by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) is in fact Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Abdul-Jabbar, playing in character, denies being the basketball star, insisting instead that he is merely Roger Murdock, the plane's co-pilot. The boy then states that he thinks Kareem is great, but that his father thinks the Lakers "don't work hard on defense" and that Kareem "doesn't try... except during the playoffs". This causes Abdul-Jabbar to snarl "The hell I don't!", followed by "Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes".

Walton has also been impersonated by Frank Caliendo on several occasions. Caliendo (in Walton character) proclaims, "Unbelievable! I remember being in Berkeley, watching the beard not connecting on my face, I could smell colors, I could feel sounds! Has there ever been a player better than Detlef Schrempf? I mean, watching a guy 6 foot 10, I don't know where he's from, I don't know what country he's about! But I will tell you what, watching him shoot from the outside is unbelievable! Fred Roberts look out! World B. Free! I don't care who you are! I mean, Howard Eisley, does it matter?! I don't think so! This is what basketball is all about! Luke, come to the dark side, I AM YOUR FATHER!"

Walton also has cameo appearances in the films Celtic Pride, Little Nicky and Semi-Pro.

Bill Walton is a playable character in the video games NBA Street Vol. 2 (2003) and NBA Street V3 (2005).

Further reading


  1. Everybody Loves The Big Red-Head: Bill Walton
  2. retrieved December 17, 2006
  3. Walton's genealogy at
  4. 1970 USA Basketball
  5. NCAA Basketball Tourney History -
  7. retrieved February 28, 2007
  8. SDHOC awards Walton
  9. Airplane! (1980) - Memorable quotes

External links

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