Bill Walton in 1979-80:
If you haven’t read David Halberstam’s The Breaks of the Game, scrounge up a copy stat. It tells the story of the Trail Blazers’ championship team in 1977. The next year, on pace for another title with a 50-8 start, Portland lost Walton to a broken foot. He was nonetheless won the MVP with 18.9 points and 13.2 boards per game and was cleared to play in the playoffs where he reinjured himself against Seattle. So much for that.
Walton, believing he hadn’t been ready to come back, was so upset he sat out whole 1979-80 season in protest before signing with San Diego as a free agent. There’s a way to look at this as the precursor to Brandon Roy, who likely returned prematurely for a playoff series with Phoenix after knee surgery just days before. Neither’s career was the same after chronic injuries shadowed them.
More than ever now it seems a player’s health after he leaves the pros is as important as how he is during his career. Looking back with hindsight of more than 30 years ago, it seems more than admirable that Walton was looking out for himself. That’s fine, but shouldn’t he have owed his teammates the effort? It’s rhetorical. He absolutely needed to show up for his teammates, even if ownership was his enemy.
Walton’s still one of the game’s best minds but in that moment, he wasn’t thinking right. That’s what crosses my mind, and why it’s No. 1.
Follow Andrew on Twitter at @AndrewGreif.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.