Guys who cracked code in Boston sports: Bill Walton

Jim Hackett
March 15, 2019 - 10:41 am

I've been wanting to write this for over 20 years. . .

Nobody has ever appreciated being a part of something, being a part of something really special like the 1986 Boston Celtics, more than Bill Walton. I think I've enjoyed his retirement more than his playing career just listening to him and watching the overjoyed and satisfied look on his face as he waxes poetic about his time with the Celtics and specifically playing with Larry Bird. It's quite obvious that the Celtics hold a very special place in Bill Walton's heart and life and he never lets an opportunity pass to let you know it. Not going to lie, I love that about him.

Despite all of the championships in these parts since 2001, the '86 Celtics still get their fair share of play in the conversation and it's rightfully deserved. I was one of the fortunate ones that witnessed it in my formative sports loving years as a teenager and though it was over thirty years ago, the memories of those games and players are tattooed in my brain, it was that good. Walton's arrival represented the missing piece to the Celtics regaining their rightful championship throne, provided he could stay healthy. He did and the rest is history. Still to this day, the 1986 Celtics championship banner is the one I always seek out amongst the many hanging from the rafters in the Garden. Whether I'm at a Celtics game, Bruins game, concert or family show, my eyes always find it. I think of Bird, the Big Three and grin thinking about Walton and just how happy he was to be there.

He wasn't just along for the ride, though, because the man could play. Walton is a true Hall of Famer, despite battling serious and severe injuries for most of his career. If you haven't read Bob Ryan's autobiography 'Scribe' and you're a Boston sports fan, you're doing yourself a disservice. It's a great read and trip down memory lane. The Celtics stuff throughout the book is riveting. To me, Ryan is the foremost expert of my era on the NBA, with Jackie MacMullan a close second. In the book, Ryan creates a scenario where if Planet Earth were under attack and our galactic independence was to be decided by a basketball game, his No. 1 draft pick would be a healthy Bill Walton. Wow. Just stop and think about how many great NBA players there have been for a moment and drink that comment in.

On the court in 1986 Walton provided an added relentlessness that every opponent who faced the Celtics had to deal with. You had Bird in the absolute apex of his career dominating in every aspect of the game. You had two more Hall of Fame big guys with Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. When either one of those two needed a spell, Walton, another future Hall of Famer, would come in and pass the ball around with Bird like they were on the Harlem Globetrotters. The rest of the league was the Washington Generals. It was fun and Walton dove in head first. When he was on the bench and the Celtics were steamrolling opponents, he'd be waving a towel and his grin was ear to ear. It was pure enjoyment for Walton on and off the court.

With the press, Walton often played the role of the wise owl, offering perspective that only someone with the journey he'd been on could provide. He knew what life was like playing for a dog organization like the San Diego / Los Angeles Clippers. He had felt the glory of a championship in Portland in 1977, and the sting of nearly losing it all due to repeated injuries. He was candid and sincere in every scenario but it was his pronounced life's wisdom that really came through. He knew that he was communicating with the fans through the media and took the time to be frank and include you in his nightly state of the Celtics. Fans and media alike appreciated it.

Over the last couple of months on NBC Sports Boston, they have been airing a special on the 1986 Celtics. It's great and I highly recommend watching it. Most of the players and personalities involved with that special team are interviewed and Walton's wisdom plays a significant role in it. The documentary closes with Walton saying, "I'm a proud, loyal and grateful Boston Celtic." Every time I watch it a little mist comes to my eyes. Grateful. A word that is rarely heard from a professional athlete's mouth these days. Bill Walton's gratitude for the second life the Celtics offered him showed every time he suited up from 1985-1987 and it hasn't stopped to this day. For that, I am grateful. Bill Walton truly cracked the code in Boston.