Banner
FROM THE GROUND UP PDF 

(Gary Washburn, Boston Globe, 1/15)

Bill Walton is broadcasting Kings games on an occasional basis, giving fans his eloquent and unique take on things such as the DeMarcus Cousins situation.

Walton is missed on the national stage, the Hall of Famer stepping away from broadcasting when spinal pain became too great and required delicate surgery. Walton had always dealt with back and foot pain - the latter slicing years off his NBA career - but the pain that developed in later years became debilitating

“Five years ago, when my spine collapsed and failed me, I spent the next three years on the ground,’’ he said. “All you want is for that pain to go away and get that chance to play one more day. I’m lucky. I’m coming up on the three-year anniversary of my surgery. I had no idea what life was like without back pain.’’

Not only did the pain force Walton to interrupt his broadcasting career, it led him to contemplate his mortality.

“When you spend three years on the ground, in excruciating, debilitating, unrelenting pain, it can only be described as being submerged in a vat of scalding acid with an electrifying current running through it,’’ he said.

“And you know full well that your life is over and it’s not worth living.

You go through the stages of thinking you’re going to die, to wanting to die, to being afraid you’re going to live, to all of sudden you get better.

Your life is never the same again.’’

Walton is auctioning a $100,000 event package at his San Diego home to benefit the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which provides equipment and other necessities for physically challenged athletes. Walton has a special connection with the cause.

“When you spent three years on the ground, you need to start over,’’ he said. “That’s what I’m doing.

“The great thing about the game of life is you never know where it’s going to take you. People who lose a limb, our veterans who come back from our wars in the Middle East, people who have been blown up, children with horrific birth defects or who have been in tragic and terrible accidents, they lose a limb and they think their life is over - the way that my life was over a few years ago.

“I’ve got this second chance and I’m going for it.’’

It has been 26 years since Walton joined the Celtics as a replacement for Cedric Maxwell and helped the team win its 16th title. He was at the tail end of his career, relegated to reserve duty because of years of foot injuries. But he played a career-best 80 games as a 33-year-old, averaging

7.6 points in 19 minutes. For that one season, his body cooperated.

“I was a Celtic fan growing up as a boy; Bill Russell was my favorite player ever,’’ he said. “It was a very, very special team that could beat anybody any way. Larry Bird, who was the greatest player I ever played with, Kevin McHale, the second-greatest low-post player I ever played against, all the guys made the team so much fun.

“The day I beat Kevin McHale one-on-one in practice in front of the whole Celtic family, that’s what stands out.’’

If you’re wondering about the greatest low-post player Walton played against, it was his first NBA rival, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“Kareem was the greatest player I ever played against, regardless of position, by far, not even close,’’ he said.

The current Celtics may be slightly reminiscent of that ’86 team, with a roster full of players in their final productive years. The question is whether they are capable of another championship run.

“[Rajon] Rondo is the key, but the domination of the paint - which puts incredible pressure on Kevin Garnett - ultimately [will be most important],’’ he said. “Kevin Garnett is not a center. He is a forward, and those are completely different positions.

“While he can play limited amounts of time at center, that’s not his game.

That means Jermaine O’Neal and Brandon Bass have to carry extremely heavy burdens.

“It’s a young man’s game, and right now the Miami Heat are the best team in the Eastern Conference. They’re a lot younger, and they can run faster, harder, and longer, and that comes back to Rondo as the critical component.’’

But it is possible for an older team to prevail, Walton added.

“If the players will listen to the coach, and if the players will make the sacrifices, it can happen,’’ he said.

 
Follow billwalton on Twitter

Search

Polls

What is your favorite Walton quote?
 

Speaking