Walton dominant at Sports Breakfast

By Jeff Nations

WINCHESTER — Bill Walton took on Saturday’s Partlowe Insurance Sports Breakfast the same way he patrolled the post on the basketball court and filled the airwaves as a longtime announcer — simply dominating the action.

Walton, a co-Sports Marshal for the 87th Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, seemingly had a story — or an opinion — on any range of topics during Saturday’s banquet as he smoothly transitioned from talking about famed UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden to dropping musical references to Bob Dylan and Jerry Garcia throughout his energetic appearance.

Walton also worked in references to his fellow sports celebrities on hand — baseball Hall of Famer Joe Morgan and Robert Griffin II, father of Washington Redskins starting quarterback Robert Griffin III — all while stressing the importance of a focused approach and an open mind to life.

“If you think you’re too small to ever get anything done, you don’t know Joe Morgan,” Walton said. “If you think you’re too small to ever make a difference, you’ve never spent the night in bed with a mosquito.”

Walton has never been small — as a 6-foot-11 center at UCLA, he was part of the Bruins’ legendary dynasty under Wooden. Following an undefeated season on UCLA’s freshman team, Walton helped cement Wooden’s legacy as “The Wizard of Westwood” by leading the Bruins to back-to-back 30-0 seasons (1971-72 and 1972-73) and NCAA championships. UCLA’s NCAA men’s basketball record 88-game win streak ended during his senior year in 1974, as did the school’s strike of seven straight NCAA championships. Walton won three consecutive Naismith College Player of the Year Awards.

Wooden’s impact on Walton was lifelong. Walton described him as “like a reverend, like your dad, like your best friend.”

True to Walton’s mantra, Wooden was always capable of growth and change. That included Wooden’s famed “Pyramid of Success,” long copied as a blueprint for winning in basketball and in life.

“He added two words at the end, years later — faith and patience,” Walton said. “Do you believe and are you willing to put in the work to see it through to the end?”

Walton’s own journey next took him to the NBA, where the San Diego native was taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1974 draft by the Portland Trail Blazers. Walton led the Blazers to the 1977 NBA championship, winning NBA Playoff MVP honors that year. The following season, Walton was the league’s MVP despite missing time with a broken foot.

Walton was consistently dogged by injuries, particularly to his foot and ankles, but had a career resurgence with the Boston Celtics in the mid-1980s. The 1986 Boston squad won the NBA championship, and Walton earned the NBA Sixth Man Award for his contributions.

Injuries further sidelined Walton the following year, and he retired from basketball following the 1987 season in what was recognized as a Hall of Fame career with his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993.

By then, Walton had embarked on a broadcasting career, which would bring his colorful personality to a new generation of fans and make catchphrases of Waltonisms like, “That’s a terrible call! Terrible!”

Walton said the best player he ever faced was fellow Hall of Famer and UCLA alum Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“There was nobody close to Kareem,” Walton asid. “And everything I did was to beat this guy.

“… I played my best against him, and the guy still threw 50 in my face every game. That guy’s left leg belongs in the Smithsonian.”

Walton also came to the assist of Griffin, who got a potentially sticky question from the audience about whether or not the Washington Redskins should change their nickname in the wake of the NBA’s lifetime ban of owner Donald Sterling for using racial slurs during a telephone conversation made public.

Walton neatly intercepted that question, and didn’t hold back on his own opinion — that wouldn’t be his style.

“They should change the name because it’s offensive to certain people,” Walton said. “And sports are about inclusion. Sports are about a chance and about opportunity.”

“We all have choices in our life,” Walton said. “I make my choices based on people, purpose, passion, programs and projects. I change all the time. If anybody comes and tells you that I’m the same person today at 61, as I am, as I was when I was 20, that person has wasted the last 41 years of their life. Flexibility is the key to stability.”

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com>