April 20, 2010
When Trey brought up the idea to me yesterday, I was a bit uneasy. Even as I write this, I feel like I'm horning in where I don't belong.
His motivation was spot-on. "You wrote something about Bill Walton last year that was pretty good, he's going through a tough time right now, re-introduce people to that post, if they missed it. Get the word out about Bill." And Trey tells me these things, in paraphrased quotes that are actually nothing like the email he sent me, because of the fantastic work done over the last week by Eric Freeman of The Baseline, and Nick Canepa of the San Diego Union-Tribune.
And, of course, the fine work of Bill Walton.
But I feel like I'm elbowing into the party. Hey guys, I like Bill Walton too! Throw me some attention! Ugh.
It's Bill, though. So this post goes up.
I still miss Bill Walton, and if you don't think the game and this league and this playoff season are a better place with Bill Walton around, then you can just click on over to your favorite NFL Mock Draft page, kindly, before you even finish reading this sentence.
Walton's back in the news because of a painfully-honest interview he gave to Canepa. The Hall of Famer's back has been in tatters for the longest time - since college, to hear Bill tell it - and the continued surgical reinforcements his back and nerves have had to endure has taken him away from the broadcast booth, and public life as well.
Officially retired from broadcasting last November, Bill has been off air for a few years now, and apparently his day to day routine involves the sort of pain and attempt at rehabilitation that you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. The description, from Walton as documented in the Union-Tribune piece, is not for the squeamish.
"There were four incisions, four 4-inch bolts, two titanium rods and a cage that holds it all together and spacers in between the vertebrae," he said. "It was the hardest thing I've had to go through, much more difficult than all my other surgeries combined. It's come so far, the evolution of back surgery, and doctors constantly are improving.
"I can't describe the pain. Think of being submerged in a tub of boiling acid with an electrified current running through it. That would be nothing. People who haven't had that nerve pain can't know. It's debilitating, excruciating, unrelenting. I had to eat lying on the floor, flat on my stomach."
The big hook on the column, the thing that's got it passed around between the blogs and tossed around via email is that Walton did contemplate suicide during his most recent ordeal, wondering if a life spent in this much pain was worth living at all. Luckily for all of us, this frustration (that has to be the absolute weakest word to use, no?) only led to thoughts, nothing moreand luckily for Bill, there is a new type of spine surgery that enabled him to quickly return to his normal life.
The procedure, called XLIF, was developed by San Diego-based NuVasive and performed Dr. Steve Garfin. Driven by the success of the surgery and his experiences dealing with his own back condition, Bill is now the lead spokesperson for a new patient advocacy program, The Better Way Back, which is dedicated to helping people afflicted with chronic back and leg pain.
It was Freeman, though, that really did the finest work with Bill's terrible/encouraging news following Canepa's piece. Adding personal anecdotes ("The only time I've seen Walton in person, he moved like an 85-year-old man. That was roughly 15 years and many surgeries ago.") alongside a sympathetic and appreciative tone, he brought it all back to what a lot of us feel. And it reminded Trey and I about what I wrote last May in a half-hour that resonates nearly a year later.
We all miss Bill Walton. And even if he isn't around to call tonight's Spurs/Mavericks nonsense, and even if his life is better served helping others find their way to the sort of treatment that makes his life bearable in 2010, it's still worth pointing out that a significant part of our family and our game's history has been needlessly taken from us.
Cruelly pulled away from us time and time again. As a Blazer and Clipper and Celtic and, now, broadcaster, Walton deserved better. We deserved Walton, and it's still an absolute shame we can't hear him give Kendrick Perkins(notes) a bit of stick, or wax over-the-top on the brilliance of Deron Williams(notes).
So, yeah, I'm horning into the party, but I'll leave as soon as I can sneak a couple of bottles of whatever into my sportcoat pockets. Just understand the message, and if you haven't read these fantastic pieces, please do.
And to Bill? No matter how you see yourself, and no matter what you've gone through; understand that the overwhelming majority of us don't think about the person lying on his stomach, when the name "Bill Walton" is mentioned. No, we think dually of the fluid pivotman who ran down the court, waiving a raised index finger over the head, calling out the offensive set; and the NBA broadcaster who at once refused to take anything seriously while making this game the most serious thing in his life.
That's who we're thinking of, and that's who we miss. Keep fighting, Bill. Aiko, aiko. Jacamo fi na ney.