American basketball star Bill Walton was a three-time college player of the year and a successful broadcaster after an injury-marred NBA career.
Bill Walton was born on November 5, 1952, in La Mesa, California. "The Big Redhead" became one of college basketball's all-time greats and a noted counterculture symbol at UCLA, but his bursts of brilliance as a professional were often eclipsed by lengthy absences due to injuries. After retiring from the hardwood, Walton made a successful transition to broadcasting.
Early Years and College
Famed basketball player and television broadcaster Bill Walton was born William Theodore Walton III on November 5, 1952, in La Mesa, California. A shy, nervous kid with a bad stutter, he nonetheless grew into a powerful presence on a basketball court. He led Helix High School to back-to-back championships in his final two years, averaging 29 points and 25 rebounds as a senior.
In 1971, Walton joined the powerhouse basketball team led by legendary coach John Wooden at the University of California, Los Angeles. "The Big Redhead" helped maintain the UCLA dynasty on the court, carrying the team to consecutive 30-0 records and NCAA championships as a freshman and sophomore. Walton's performance in the 1973 title game, in which he missed just one of 23 shots en route to 44 points, is considered one of the greatest individual efforts in college history.
But Walton's focus was hardly limited to basketball, as the erstwhile shy kid became a highly visible member of the counterculture scene. He grew his hair long, surfaced at Grateful Dead shows and became an outspoken critic of President Nixon's administration. As a sophomore, he was arrested for his part in barricading an administration building to protest the Vietnam War.
Walton's final collegiate season ended in relative disappointment as UCLA lost in the Final Four, though he claimed his third consecutive NCAA Player of the Year Award. Afterward, he was selected with the No. 1 overall pick by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1974 NBA Draft.
Walton made an instant impact on the pro level. At 6'11" and 235 pounds, he had the size to be devastating shot blocker and rebounder, and he displayed tremendous passing ability. Unfortunately, his NBA career was also immediately affected by a series of injuries, as foot problems limited him to just 86 of a possible 164 games in his first two years.
Walton enjoyed the peak of his pro career during the 1976-77 season. He led the NBA with 14.4 rebounds and 3.2 blocked shots per game, and capped the year with the NBA Finals MVP Award after leading Portland to a six-game victory over Philadelphia for the championship. He was named league MVP the following season but suffered a broken ankle during the playoffs, an injury that knocked him out of action for more than a year.
Walton signed a big free-agent contract with the San Diego Clippers in May 1979, but played in just 14 games that season and missed the following two years with more injuries. He joined the Boston Celtics prior to the 1985 season and finally enjoyed the sort of healthy campaign that had eluded him his entire career, claiming the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award while helping the powerful Celtics win the 1986 NBA Championship.
The injuries returned and limited Walton to 10 games in 1986-87. He called it quits after attempting a comeback during the 1988 preseason, finishing his career with averages of 13.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.
Broadcaster and Legacy
His stuttering problems behind him, Walton successfully transitioned to television broadcasting in 1991, becoming known for his hyperbolic opinions and references to favored musical acts, most notably the Grateful Dead and Neil Young.
Despite all of the injuries he suffered over his career, Walton was recognized as one of the game's top all-around big men when he was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993, and again when he was named one of the NBA's all-time "50 Greatest Players" in 1996. Seven years later, Walton watched as his son, Luke, followed in his NBA footsteps as a rookie with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Walton was forced to step down from regular broadcasting duties after experiencing severe back pain, but he underwent spinal surgery in 2009 and returned to his familiar spot in the booth in 2012.