November 03, 2009
It makes sense that Bill Walton would have to retire from broadcasting, years before everyone else has to retire from broadcasting.
After all, nobody really ever retires from broadcasting, at least on the sports side of things. Apologies for going a bit harsh with this, but usually people just die first. And though Bill is two decades removed from his playing days, he only turns 57 on Thursday. Nobody's following him with a sickle. No flies on Bill.
But it makes sense that he'll have to give it all up. Because early, forced, retirement due to health reasons makes all the sense in the world for Bill Walton. Why? Because it isn't fair. Why? Because it's sufficiently cruel. Why? Because this guy has never, ever, been able to catch a break.
And, by extension, the people he's been able to entertain effortlessly (even though he put in great effort) for years are left out in the cold again.
Real compassionate, Dwyer. The man can't even force himself into a courtside seat because of the pain he's enduring, and you're thinking about yourself.
Well, yeah. That's kind of the point. Bill Walton's never given two seconds of thought to anyone but everyone else.
His parents, his family, his coaches, his teammates, his opponents, his listeners, his readers, his friends, the strangers, the public, the masses, the multitude of ears that dot the history of Western Civilization. That's what Bill Walton cared about. Not himself.
And, cruelest of ironies, life responded in like kind.
Sure, he was blessed with height and athletic gifts and profound intelligence. But he had to work to build upon the first of those, and refine the following pair. And as soon as he turned a corner with all three? Injuries. Then intolerance, from the culture he'd hope to help change. Then, eventually, an ankle fusion-forced exodus from the thing he loved most — running up and down the court, kicking some team's ass.
By then, of course, he'd overcome a seemingly-debilitating stutter, and became employable on the TV side of things. Not just employable — Walton has had lasting gigs with CBS, NBC, and ABC. Name someone else with that track record.
He also did Los Angeles Clipper games, locally, with Ralph Lawler, and was an absolute hoot. I've never heard a pair have so much fun dealing with such little substance, but Walton and Lawler weren't just taking the piss out of a Clipper/Warriors game. They were legitimately enjoying themselves, and I've yet to hear anything that comes close to that, spewing out of my satellite dish. I've kept the same speakers, in a fit of superstition, hoping that something else shows up. No dice.
Along the way, he developed some detractors. But, come on, are you people that uptight? That allergic to whimsy? That frustrated? The guy goofed around. Nobody is more serious about the game he loves, filtered through the life he wants you to love, but that doesn't mean you can't get a bit silly with things. Chill out.
And now, he has to stop. And it's just cruel. It's not easy to fold a 7-foot frame (Walton always likes to refer to himself as 6-11, but we know better) into planes, into hotel rooms, into sideline chairs, onto studio sets; but this should have been the one thing Bill could have done.
It should have been a proper karmic reimbursement for the years of pain and frustration, a deity-derived rain check handed down from on high. "OK, you can't be the greatest pivot man to ever play the game, but I'll still give you the chance to make millions happy at a time. Tip-off's at 7:30. Smarten up."
Well, I don't believe in ghosts. And this is a good reason why. Sadly.
It's enough to thoroughly depress me, even as we're looking at the dew-misted, untouched field of dreams that is the 2009-10 season. It was enough to sadden me last spring, even in the midst of the greatest time in most of our lives. It just isn't fair. Even if you were too small to handle how he called games, the least you can do is agree with that.
We've nothing to do but to move on, attempting to learn from the lessons he taught us. The man is still around, his spirit unmoved, we're just going to hear less from him. We think. Possibly. If we're honest, that ain't happening. I got a feeling that old Bill ain't going nowhere.
So, I'll look for you in old Honolulu, San Francisco, Ashtabula. You're going to have to leave me now, I know. But I'll see you in the stars above, in the tall grass, in the ones I love. You're going to make me lonesome when ... ah, forget it. You ain't going nowhere.
You want to start up a podcast, Bill?