For all the times we complain about Reggie Miller or Phil Simms in a broadcast booth, at least there’s also someone like Bill Walton out there. His penchant for storytelling is unparalleled, and even when those tales wander off the rails, they’re still so damn interesting.
The most recent example came from Walton’s guest appearance on Adrian Wojnarowski’s The Vertical Podcast. Walton discussed his move to the Boston Celtics at the tail end of his career, when he was traded from the L.A. Clippers despite an extensive injury history that would have normally scared away all suitors. As he tells it, that he was allowed to sign was all thanks to Red Auerbach, the Hall of Fame coach and general manager, who was present when Walton was getting his physical:
“And then Red, he bursts in through the double doors at Mass. General Hospital there at the east end of Storrow Drive. And he’s smoking his cigar in the hospital, and he walks in and says, ‘Who are you guys and what are you doing with my player?’ And they’re saying, ‘Red, come here. Look at this. Look at his feet. Look at his face. We can’t pass this guy.’ And Red says, ‘Shut up. I’m in charge here.’ And Red pushes his way through all the doctors, comes over. I’m lying on the table there in the doctors examining room. Red looks down at me. He says, ‘Walton, can you play?’ And I looked up at him with the sad, soft eyes of a young man who just wanted one more chance. One more chance to be part of something special, to be part of the team, to be with the guys one more time. And I looked up at him, and I said, ‘Red, I think I can. I think I can, Red.’
“And Red took a step back, folded his arms, and took a drag on that cigar. Oh my gosh. And he held that smoke in as long as he possibly could, and you could just see all the machinations going on, all the calculations, all the deliberations as to how this is all going to play out. Finally he just exhaled, and I swear that smoke came out green. And it was shamrocks and leprechauns up against the white LED lights on the wall. And Red, through the smoke, with a big, cherubic grin on his face, looked at the doctors, looked at me, and he said, ‘He’s fine. He passes. Let’s go. We’ve got a game.”
If you can spare the time, you can hear the rest of this story — including a great description of the awful Donald Sterling — on the podcast, along with several other Walton tales. Like the narrator he is, he can’t help but spin a good yarn. Let’s all appreciate the next time we get to hear him on a broadcast, considering who else is out there.