In case you hadn’t noticed, we haven’t exactly heard from Bill Walton very much recently. The normally gregarious, verbose NBA fixture has been out of the public spotlight recently, and it’s owing to rehab from spinal fusion surgery, a procedure that’s every bit as agonizing as it sounds.
Walton’s first appearance came in Portland, of all places; while one without any prior knowledge might think he’d be one of the city’s favorite sons, there’s actually qute a bit of animosity there, as injuries marred the former #1 pick’s career with the Blazers before an ugly dispute with the Portland front office led to Walton sitting the 1978-79 season out while awaiting a trade.
That’s not a healthy way to leave a situation, of course, and after 30 years, Walton apparently felt the time was right to make amends.
Walton, 56, spoke with the media for more than 40 minutes Friday morning at the Rose Garden.
The NBA Hall of Famer said he was in town for three fast-paced days. He planned to help promote awareness for the Special Olympics, attend the Oregon Governors Gold Awards, and take part in the Blazers’ inaugural Hoops and Heart fundraiser.
But Walton said what he really wanted — and needed — to do was fix the past.
“I just wish that you could do a lot of things over, but you can’t,” said Walton, a two-time NBA champion who resides in San Diego, Calif. “And so I’m here to apologize. I’m here to try to make amends. I’m here to try to start over. I’m here to try to make it better.”
Though nobody in Portland would argue that Walton should be made to apologize for his injuries, the acrimonious nature of his one-man protest certainly left a sour taste in Blazer fans’ mouths, one that has yet to dissipate: Walton won a title with Boston, but the Blazers have yet to raise the trophy again.
Walton attributes his decision to make amends to the physical state he was in as he underwent the procedure, a situation just about nobody ever wants to be in:
Walton recalled a recent low point by stating, “I was lying on the floor, a pitiful, helpless ball of flesh, that could not walk, think, talk, sit, stand, sleep, do anything.”
He described “unrelenting, excruciating and debilitating” nerve pain that ranged from his chest to his knees.
And Walton ran through an injury report that sounded like a personal nightmare: He has two surgically-fused ankles; knees, hands and wrists that do not work; at least 11 metal bolts in his body; and is forced to wear a protective brace.
Walton stated that he went from standing on the edge and thinking his life was over, to seeing light finally appear on the horizon and having “dreams of a better tomorrow.”
Yes, that would be enough to have just about anybody reconsider the entire events of their life; it’s good, of course, that Walton took the opportunity to recognize that there was unresolved business with a city that he obviously loves and identifies with.
The shame, then, is that it took a complete betrayal of himself by his own body - a cruel, cruel fate, that - to spur Walton to action. Obviously, the malice was two-sided for a while, but had Walton’s health held up just fine after retirement, would he never have buried the hatchet with Portland? That’s no way for a man to live, especially a man like Walton.
Considering the treatment he levies from the broadcast booth on players for botching an inbounds pass, there’s no telling what Bill Walton as a broadcaster would say about Bill Walton as a man if he never went back to Portland. We’re glad that question is now moot.