Has there ever been an NBA player who’s lived a life of more varied interests than Bill Walton? It’s not often a college legend who became an NBA MVP, champion, All-Star and cautionary tale about injury shortened careers is almost remembered more for his interests outside of his playing. Take, for example, his public love for the Grateful Dead, a fan since 1967 and friend of the late Jerry Garcia. Chances are you know, love or revile him because of his work as a broadcaster. That’s why we’re here today.
Walton gave up duties calling cames back in 2009 but he’s shown up here and there since, notably a celebration of the Grateful Dead at a Kings game in 2011. He’s the creator of “Throw it down, big man,” a call that you won’t see on this list because, well, there’s no video evidence of it on YouTube. Just understand the omission isn’t taken lightly, because it’s the best sentence he’s ever said on a microphone, ever. Its only challenger could be another call that is sadly lost to video history, when he called out Larry Johnson for a bad play in the 1999 NBA Finals thusly: “What a pathetic performance by this sad human being.”
So if you can forgive that those won’t be here on account of their absence from YouTube’s memory, follow through for his other best calls. What a long strange trip it’s been, indeed.
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5. BILL VS. SHAQUILLE
It’s impossible to watch this video now, seeing Walton tear apart Shaquille O’Neal for legitimate reasons — Shaq said he couldn’t play because of injuries in Miami, but upon a trade to Phoenix promised a title — and not think of Shaq ripping Dwight Howard with non sequiturs and other contrived arguments now from his own broadcaster perch.
The theme of “what goes around comes around” also works here because of Walton’s core issue with Shaq, the injuries. Walton, Grant Hill and Anfernee Hardaway are part of an elite, tragic class whose injuries cut short incredible careers. He actually has grounds to say this about O’Neal as a big man facing a spate of injuries and delivers a classic verbal uppercut to prove it. It’s almost painful to listen to Shaq’s rambling response after Walton’s to-the-point jab. I mostly remember of Walton as being a lover of the purple prose and flowery speech, but it would be wrong to forget that he never minced words.