By 1985, Bill Walton had already won an NBA title and Finals MVP with the Portland Trailblazers and spent the next several years fighting ankle injuries that would keep him off the court more then in uniform.
The injury plagued Walton was 33 years old and never played more than sixty seven games in an NBA season. Most NBA experts considered Bill Walton’s career to be over.
Larry Bird and Red Auerbach felt differently…
Walton had put the word out to the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics that he was available. Pitching himself as the leagues ideal 6th man, and back-up for Kareem or Parish, Walton waited to hear offers from both teams.
Fans shadowed the opinion of Larker GM Jerry West who, after reading a doctor’s report, questioned the health and playing ability of the former Finals MVP.
Red Auerbach made a conference call (the old fashioned kind) to Walton from his office in Boston. Seated by Larry Bird, Never looking at the doctor’s report, Auerbach asked Walton if his body was able to compete for majority of the season. Walton, always the optimist, felt he could. Auerbach asked Bird’s opinion. Bird said “if Walton is healthy enough to play, it’s good enough for him”.
Auerbach’s mind was made up. Another former Finals MVP, Cedric Maxwell, would be traded to the Clippers for the rights to Bill Walton.
The California hippy was off to Boston to play for LA’s biggest rival.
Though, in the media, questions mounted regarding Walton’s effectiveness and durability through an 82 game season, Walton was well received on opening night. Receiving a 5 minute standing ovation Walton’s was overwhelmed and never looked back.
He would play 80 games, his highest on court appearance in the NBA. Walton was also named the NBA’s sixth man of the year, a Celtics tradition.
Walton was rejuvenated averaging 8 ppg and 7 rpg in 20 minutes per game. Walton’s best contributions to the Celtics 16th championship was his work ethic, team camaraderie, basketball IQ – attributes that can never be penned onto stat sheets.
Unfortunately, after helping the Celtics steamroll thru the NBA in 1986, his last two years with the team had come full circle as ankle injuries forced him out of 154 of the final 162 games of his career.
Celtics fans had one thing in mind when they embraced the arrival of Walton in 1986. Assist us in winning a title NOW and we will never forget you.
Though Walton’s number 5 is not hanging in the rafters at the TD Garden, his number is eternally retired in the hearts of fans. We will always remember him as a Boston Celtic.
In 2009, another wile veteran has been accepted into the Celtics family at the twilight of his all-star career. Though not plagued by debilitating injuries, similar questions surround his opening night…
Rasheed Wallace will be recieved by the fans at the Garden that will be reminiscent of the fall night in 1985.
We can only expect of him what that Red head contributed 22 years ago – his heart.
Nick Gelso covers the Boston Celtics and NBA for Boston Sports Then and Now. You can check out more of his great work on his blog: The Boston Celtics News Station.