William Theodore Walton III (born November 5, 1952) is an American retired basketball player and television sportscaster. Walton became known playing for John Wooden‘s powerhouse UCLA Bruins in the early 1970s, winning three successive College Player of the Year Awards, while leading the Bruins to two Division I national titles. He then went on to have a prominent career in the National Basketball Association (NBA) where he was a league Most Valuable Player (MVP) and won two NBA championships. His professional career was significantly hampered by multiple foot injuries. Walton was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on May 10, 1993 and the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame that same year.
Early life and college career
Walton was born in La Mesa, California, the son of Gloria Anne (ne Hickey) and William Theodore “Ted” Walton. His listed adult playing height was 6 feet 11 inches; it has been reported that Walton is actually taller (7 feet 2 inches, or more) but does not like being categorized as a seven-footer.
He played high school basketball at Helix High School. At age 17, Walton 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 Angeles (UCLA) from 1971 to 1974, winning the national title in 1972 over Florida State and again in 1973 with an 87-66 win over Memphis State in which Walton made 21 of 22 field goal attempts and scored 44 points, representing more than half his team’s total points.
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 men’s basketball 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.
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 Walton’s senior year during the 1973-74 season, the school’s 88-game winning streak ended with a 71-70 loss to Notre Dame. During the same season, UCLA’s record seven consecutive national titles was broken when North Carolina State 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 UCLA dynasty came to an end.
Portland Trail Blazers
On leaving college, Walton was drafted by the San Diego Conquistadors of the American Basketball Association and also taken as the number one overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1974 NBA draft and was hailed as the savior of the Portland franchise. He signed with the Trail Blazers but 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 (arguably holding his own against 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 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.
San Diego Clippers
Walton spent more time on the disabled list than on the court with his hometown San Diego Clippers. He only played 14 games for the Clippers during the 1979-80 season before missing all of the next two seasons, undergoing several reconstructive surgeries on his injured foot. Following extensive rehabilitation, Walton’s foot began to improve; after playing only 14 games from 1979-82, he played 33 games in 1982-83, 55 games in 1983-84, and a then-career high 67 in 1984-85 by which time the Clippers had moved to Los Angeles.
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.
NBA career statistics
|GP||Games played||GS||Games started||MPG||Minutes per game|
|FG%||Field goal percentage||3P%||3-point field goal percentage||FT%||Free throw percentage|
|RPG||Rebounds per game||APG||Assists per game||SPG||Steals per game|
|BPG||Blocks per game||PPG||Points per game||Bold||Career high|
|Denotes seasons in which Walton won an NBA championship|
|*||Led the league|
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 painkillers 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. In a June 8, 2010 interview on The Dan Patrick Show, Walton admitted to contemplating suicide for a time due to the constant pain resulting from injuries sustained during his NBA career. Walton’s injuries, along with his 1978-1979 year-long protest, gave him an unpleasant, if not odd, record of missing the most games during an NBA playing career, when taking into account the number of years he was officially listed as a player on a team roster.
Walton was inducted into both the Basketball Hall of Fame and the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 1993. Walton also had his number 32 retired by the Blazers in 1989. His number 32 was also retired by UCLA, in a joint ceremony with fellow basketball legend, number 33, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. 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.
Awards and honors
- 2 NBA champion (1977, 1986)
- NBA Finals MVP (1977)
- NBA Most Valuable Player (1978)
- 2 NBA All-Star (1977–1978)
- All-NBA First Team (1978)
- All-NBA Second Team (1977)
- 2 NBA All-Defensive First Team (1977-1978)
- NBA Sixth Man of the Year (1986)
- NBA 50th Anniversary Team
- No. 32 retired by Portland Trail Blazers
- 2 NCAA champion (1972–1973)
- 2 NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player (1972-1973)
- 3 Naismith College Player of the Year (1972-1974)
- 3 USBWA Player of the Year (1972-1974)
- 3 Adolph Rupp Trophy (1972-1974)
- 2 Helms Foundation College Player of the Year (1972-1973)
- 3 Sporting News College Player of the Year (1972-1974)
- 2 AP College Player of the Year (1972-1973)
- 3 Consensus first-team All-American (1972–1974)
- 3 First-team All-Pac-8 (1972-1974)
- No. 32 retired by UCLA
After his retirement as a player, Walton overcame a stuttering problem to become a successful and controversial NBA color commentator for NBC (1990-2002), the Los Angeles Clippers (1990-2002) and ABC/ESPN (2002-2009). After nineteen years working in broadcasting, he left ESPN in November 2009, as the result of back problems dating back to an injury suffered while playing at UCLA. Following surgery on his back, Walton returned to broadcasting as a part-time commentator for the Sacramento Kings for 2010-11 and 2011-12.
Walton’s trademark catchphrases have included:
- “That’s a terrible call! Terrible!”
- “Where in the world is ?” (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! One time!”
- “Player is right-handed and will continue to be right-handed for the remainder of the game.”
- “It’s Dave, right?”
- “One of the eight worst possessions in the history of basketball history.”
In addition, his commentary has been noted for his frequent use of hyperbole. Walton typically was paired with Steve “Snapper” Jones for national NBA games because he and Jones had a point-counterpoint banter during games. Despite their frequent on-air argumentative banter they are friends, as was shown in Walton’s short lived 2003 TV series “Bill Walton’s Long Strange Trip.”
His memoir, Back from the Dead: Searching for the Sound, Shining the Light and Throwing It Down, was released by Simon and Schuster in March 2016. It remained on The New York Times bestseller list for two weeks in April 2016.
Walton, who has a service dog, wrote the foreword to the 2015 book Unconditional Honor: Wounded Warriors and their Dogs by author Cathy Scott.
Walton currently resides in his hometown of San Diego with his wife Lori. He and his first wife, Susie, had four sons: Adam, Nathan, Luke, and Chris. Luke played from 2003 to 2012 for the Los Angeles Lakers, won both the 2009 and 2010 NBA Finals, making Bill and Luke the first father-son pair to have both won multiple NBA championships. Luke was named head coach of the Lakers on April 29, 2016, after two years as an assistant for the Golden State Warriors. Another of Walton’s sons, Chris, played for San Diego State. Nate, his middle son, played basketball at Princeton but then entered the corporate world and earned his MBA from Stanford University‘s Graduate School of Business. (Bill Walton attended Stanford Law School for two years but never graduated.) Nate was 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 a well-known fan of the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers Band, Neil Young, Phish, and Bob Dylan. He attended more than 850 Grateful Dead concerts, including traveling with the band to Egypt for its famous 1978 performance before the Pyramids (joining the band on drums), and 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 inducted into The Grateful Dead Hall of Honor. While broadcasting a game between the Oregon Ducks and USC Trojans, Walton talked about a speech Dylan gave at MusiCares, and ESPN actually had prepared graphics about Dylan’s career highlights.
Walton expounds upon his music interests on his own satellite radio show, One More Saturday Night (named after the Dead song of the same name), heard during late prime time on Sirius Radio‘s Jam On and XM Radio‘s Grateful Dead 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 played 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 keeps a picture of the floor of the old Boston Garden in his kitchen. Walton joined the Celtics broadcast crew for a West Coast road trip in 2011.
In 1990, Walton was 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 has cameo appearances in the films 88 and 1, Celtic Pride, Little Nicky and Semi-Pro, and appeared as Sven the Wise in the 2011 Capital One Visigoth SportsNet commercials. He is also mentioned by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1980 comedy Airplane! (“Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes!”)
Bill Walton is a playable character in the video games NBA Street Vol. 2 (2003), NBA Street V3 (2005), NBA 2K12 (2011), NBA 2K13 (2012), NBA 2K14 (2013), NBA 2K15 (2014), NBA 2K16 (2015) and NBA Jam: On Fire Edition (2011), and lent his voice to NBA 2K5 and NBA Shootout 2004.
Walton appeared in an episode of the reality TV show Shark Tank on January 20, 2012, where he helped to sell the “Clean Bottle”, a water bottle that unscrews at both ends for easier cleaning.