Bill Walton called himself “most injured athlete in the history of sport”


bill-waltonLegendary NBA center, 60-year old Bill Walton, spoke to about 150 students Tuesday night at the Arizona State Memorial Union as part of a Pac-12 Network/ESPN campus tour that started last month.

ASU was the fifth Pac-12 stop, but Walton spoke as passionately as he did on the first. Tonight, he’s in Tucson, working Arizona’s home contest against Stanford, providing his unique and colorful commentary.

Over the course of 90 minutes, Walton brought up several topics. He might be the first Hall of Fame basketball player in history to mention the Grateful Dead, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Martin Luther King, John Fogerty, Gandhi and gun control all in one sitting.

Walton spoke on several issues, among which were his injuries, ASU basketball, the Pac-12 race, and more.

During the event, Walton’s message was one of hope and overcoming obstacles. He said he came from the least athletic parents on Earth.

He never once played basketball with his father, yet he forged his own path. At UCLA, playing for legendary coach John Wooden from 1971-74, Walton was a three-time All-American.

He discussed the importance of re-inventing oneself, transitioning from one life phase to the next. Walton, who calls himself the most injured athlete in the history of sport, described the moment he lay in a hospital, knowing his basketball career was over and wondering what was next.

He decided on broadcasting, which some found humorous given he had battled a stuttering problem for most of his life.

“Learning how to speak is the greatest accomplishment of my life,” Walton said.

But that is what Walton became, a basketball analyst, one of the top in the profession for years, never turning down an assignment. Until his back gave out.

“My spine just didn’t work anymore,” Walton said.

He thought his life was over.

“I was on the edge of the bridge,’’ Walton said. “If I had a gun, I would’ve used it. But I was saved by a brilliant surgeon.”

The spinal surgery took place four years ago. Walton calls it the toughest thing he’s experienced. He did everything his rehabilitation required, but he just didn’t see himself pulling out of it.

Then one day, while exercising, he listened to a simple Grateful Dead song about hoping for a better tomorrow. Walton remembers the moment with remarkable clarity. His life turned. He knew everything would be OK. Once, Walton didn’t know what it was like to live without back pain. Today, he doesn’t even take medication.

“Faith and patience,’’ Walton said. “Do you believe? … Dreams and hopes do come true if you fight for them.”

Walton played 10 years in the NBA, for Portland TrailBlazers, San Diego (LA) Clippers, and Boston Celtics.

Walton was a 2-time NBA All-Star, and won two NBA championships, one with Portland (1976-1977), one with Boston Celtics (1985-1986).

He holds career averages of 13.3 ppg, 10.5 rpg and 2.2 bpg in 28.3 minutes of playing time. Walton was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on May 10, 1993.

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