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Bill Walton the broadcaster and some of his most memorable moments on the mic

May 27th, 2024

Bill Walton was the perfect fit for ESPN’s annual coverage of the Maui Invitational and its hang-loose vibe. (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Bill Walton was a legend on the court, a Hall of Famer, MVP and a two-time champion at UCLA and in the NBA.

On the mic, he truly had no equal. In a decades-long post-playing career as a broadcast analyst, Walton was rarely focused or even on topic. But he was never forgettable. He was never boring. And he was never uninspired.

As the basketball world and beyond celebrates Walton upon the news of his death on Monday at 71 years old, there are countless clips and moments to choose from to highlight Walton’s incomparable style that blended poetry, music, stream of consciousness and his inimitable free spirit mixed in alongside straight basketball analysis. Let’s take a look back at some of his most memorable.

ESPN’s Dana Jacobson got the full Walton experience as the host of “Cold Pizza” in 2006 when she asked Walton to preview an early-season matchup between the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns. To start the segment, Jacobson asked a simple question of Walton about Suns All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire from his opening-night performance against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Jacobson: “How did he look to you?”

Walton responded as only Walton could.

“Dana, from the valley of the sun, I am perched high above the desert floor, the red streaks of the morning dawn are illuminating this glorious sky. I’m perusing Edward Abbey’s ‘Desert Solitude’ here, and on opening day, the songs are just running through this smoking crater. I’ve been listening to Bob Dylan’s newest album “Modern Times,” which is absolutely remarkable.

“‘Thunder on the Mountain,’ “Spirit on the Water,’ ‘Rollin and Tumblin,’ which all go to describe Amar’e Stoudemire.”

Deft ESPN producers — at this point adept at navigating Walton’s rhythms and idiosyncrasies — used the opportunity of Walton uttering Stoudemire’s name to change subject on the screen back to the topic at hand.

As highlights of Stoudemire took over the screen, Walton took the opportunity to continue to reference his only passion that might have outranked his love of basketball — music.

“But, the songs that I can’t get out of my mind today: John Fogerty’s “Center Field,” put me in, coach; I’m ready to play today. Or Bob Dylan’s ‘New Morning.’ And Dana, like you, I’m just so happy to be alive underneath this sky of blue on this new morning, new morning, what could be better than opening day?”

Only then — 45 seconds after Jacobson asked him about Stoudemire — did Walton dive into the the question at hand. The transition was seamless.

“And if Amar’e Stoudemire and the rest of the front court for the Phoenix Suns don’t start playing a lot better basketball than they did last night against the Lakers where the Lakers pounded them on the boards, they controlled the paint inside. And Boris Diaw, my second favorite player in the league, an absolute no-show of a performance — saddled with foul trouble.

“Sean Marion becomes the fifth player in Phoenix Suns history to score 10,000-plus points. Kurt Thomas did OK. But this is a mental and emotional game, Dana.”

Walton’s soliloquy on Stoudemire and what’s ailing the Suns carried on for roughly two more minutes before he closed his portion of the segment quoting Fogerty once again, this time in song.

“Put me in coach, I’m ready to play today,” Walton sung to Jacobson.

It was quintessential Bill Walton — a single question followed by several moments of occasionally on-topic freeform alongside a broadcast straight man — or straight woman in this instance — who sat back and let Walton do his thing.

Perhaps nobody played Walton’s foil better than play-by-play announcers Dave Pasch and Jason Benetti, who frequently accompanied Walton on the ESPN’s college basketball broadcasts. But anybody who shared a broadcast with Walton knew they were in for a ride like no other.

RIP to a true one-of-a-kind:

This content was originally sourced and posted at Yahoo! Sports – News, Scores, Standings, Rumors, Fantasy Games »
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