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NBA 75 Series: #64 Bill Walton

Updated: Jan 16, 2022

Ranked #64 in my 75 Greatest NBA Players of All Time is Bill Walton. Born William Theodore III on November 5, 1952, in La Mesa,California to his mother Gloria and father William. Walton was introduced to the game of basketball in the fourth grade at Blessed Sacrament Elementary School by coach Franky “Rocky” Graciano.

Walton would then attend Helix high school, where he was coached by Gordon Nash. At Helix he would help lead the team to back-to-back California Interscholastic Federation High School titles while also winning their final 49 games. While at Helix, Walton became the first and only high school player to ever make the USA Senior Men’s National Basketball Team and play in the World Championship and/or Olympics.

He was the first of two male, California high school basketball student-athletes to be enshrined into the National High School Hall of Fame. He’s the third all-time leader in rebounds nationally in high school basketball history, and still holds his school's record for field goal percentage (79%).

After a magnificent high school career, Walton took his immense talents to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1970 to play for the legendary coach John Wooden. Under Wooden, Walton would help lead UCLA to back-to-back national championships (1972-1973) to cap off two consecutive undefeated seasons that included 88 consecutive wins and repeating as the Most Outstanding Player in both tournaments.

It doesn't stop there, as he was a three-time recipient of the National Player of the Year in all three of his varsity seasons (1972-74), a three-time All-America College Player and winner of the Sullivan Award for best amateur athlete in the United States in 1973. He set the NCAA tournament record for field goal percentage (68.9%) from 1972-1974 and the single-tournament mark by shooting 76.3% (45 of 59) in 1973. He was also excellent in the classroom, becoming a scholar-athlete who earned Academic All-America honors three years in a row. He graduated with honors with a B.A. in history.

After a prolific college career, Walton was selected first overall in the 1974 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers. He averaged a double-double his rookie season with 12.8 points and 12.6 rebounds to go along with 4.8 assists and 2.7 blocks in 35 games of action. He would continue to improve his game, elevating his play his sophomore season to 16.1 points, 13.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 1.6 blocks in 51 games. His production was great for a young player and the talent was clearly there, but the amount of games he played his first two seasons was unfortunately a sign of things to come throughout his career.

But overall, Walton was perhaps the biggest what if in NBA history. Bill Walton was a tremendous, highly skilled, and intelligent basketball player. He was cursed by foot and knee injuries that sadly hindered him in what could have been one of the 10 to 15 greatest players ever. Despite that, Walton was still a brilliant player, being arguably the greatest passing big man of all-time, with only current Nuggets star center Nikola Jokic challenging him for that title. He was an immediate game-changer who transformed the Blazers franchise, who had not reached 30 wins in a season until Walton arrived.

They eclipsed that in his first season, and nearly doubled it by his fourth season in 1978 when they finished a 58-win campaign in a season where Walton captured the MVP award, despite just playing 58 games where he averaged 18.9 PPG, 13.2 RPG, 5.0 APG, and 2.5 BPG. He led the Blazers to the title in 1977 over the Julius Erving and George McGinnis-led Sixers, helping rally being down 2-0 to the Sixers and amassing 78 rebounds, 26 assists, and 18 blocks over four straight wins in their franchise’s only title, capturing the 1977 Finals MVP

He sadly played just 468 career games, but was able to be a key part of the 1986 Celtics team, considered one of the best teams ever, where he would play a career-high 80 games and win the Sixth Man of the Year Award. Walton also was a two-time All-NBA selection, two-time All-Star, the lowest of any player on my list, rebounding leader (1977), a two-time All-Defensive first team member, and has his No.32 retired by the Blazers.

He's very difficult to rank because his peak is so high and incredible, but his longevity isn’t there. Despite that, Walton was a unicorn type player because of his unique ability to make others better at his size like no other big has, until Jokic came along, and Walton's dominance of both ends of the floor.


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