of pop culture and sports website Grantland.com
-- also known as the "Sports Guy" -- includes
the 1978 Washington Bullets in his column of 20 NBA champions that must be explained with a footnote. In this case, the Bullets title, he writes, can only be explained by injuries suffered by Portland Trail Blazers center Bill Walton.
What Happened: Did an aging Bullets team finish 44-38 and somehow win the title? Yes. Yes they did.
The Footnote: That season's best player (Bill Walton) suffered a mysterious foot injury that eventually got diagnosed as a stress fracture, compromising him in the playoffs, leading to a messy breakup with the Blazers and effectively ruining the next six years of his career. You can't gloss over the significance here — the Blazers were 50-10 when Walton went down and had just earned a gushing Sports Illustrated feature16 in which Rick Barry called them "maybe the most ideal team ever put together." They were so brilliant that (a) Walton (19-13-5, 2.5 blocks, 52% FG) still won the MVP despite missing the last 22 games, and (b) they kept home-court advantage for the playoffs despite going 8-14 down the stretch. Meanwhile, two ugly fights ruined another of Kareem's prime seasons (the Lakers were semi-loaded that year),17 and the league's most talented team (Philly) imploded in a bad-chemistry quagmire. Throw in the budding cocaine epidemic and that season was off the charts on the Weird Scale.
The Verdict: Look, I hate besmirching the greatest moment in Les Boulez history. Those fans have suffered enough. And it's not like they weren't talented — the Bullets had two of the best 50 players ever (Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes) and the most underrated player of that era (read Ralph Wiley's take on Bobby Dandridge). But you can't think of that '78 season without thinking of Walton going down. You just can't. I'm giving this a 24-point Elephant footnote in Blazer red.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter