The Trail Blazers’ 50-year anniversary season is temporarily on pause as the NBA goes on hiatus to slow the spread of COVID-19. During that break, Blazer’s Edge is counting down the top 100 Blazers: players, executives, and other influencers who made the franchise what it is today.
No. 1 | Bill Walton
Games Played with Blazers: Regular Season 209, Postseason 21
*PTS: 17.1 | REB: 13.5 | AST: 4.4 | FG%: 51.0%
*Statistics are pulled from a player’s time in Portland
Joined Club: May 1974 selected 1st overall in the 1974 NBA Draft
Departed Club: May 1979, departed in free agency to the San Diego Clippers
Place in History:
If you were to pick a single season to represent all of what the Portland Trail Blazers are, have been, or aspire to be, it would undoubtedly be the championship-winning campaign of 1976-77. If you were to pick one player who embodied that season, Bill Walton is the only choice. Other players have put up better stats, played longer, even arguably had more success (if “more” includes quantity as well as quality), but only one has been in the driver’s seat on the road to a championship, the MVP of a Finals series. Only one has ever won the NBA MVP award. Walton is that man.
As anyone who has read this Top 100 list knows, Portland’s history is replete with underdog players that everyone else overlooked who made good with the Blazers. It’s practically a franchise ritual. That’s not Walton’s story. Not only was he drafted first overall in the 1974 NBA Draft, he was drafted out of UCLA. John Wooden’s basketball incubator had produced fine players throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, including and especially Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The Lakers pivot was the paragon of centers, the ultimate success story, a walking threat to the entire league.
Throughout the early 70’s, Walton was right in his footsteps. The Big Redhead led the Bruins to an 86-4 record over three seasons, including a 21 of 22, 44-point performance in the NCAA title game against Memphis State in 1973. During his first two years, UCLA lost zero games, compiling a perfect 60-0 record. Nobody had seen anything like it.
When the Blazers pulled the first overall pick in Walton’s draft year, they couldn’t select anyone else. They knew it. The league knew it. Walton and the fans knew it. Season ticket sales for the young team skyrocketed overnight. The Blazers were about to hit the big time.
That’s not exactly how it worked out, though. Injuries would prevent the world from getting more than isolated glimpses of Walton’s greatness.
The big man was a study in incongruity. He was a supremely-talented star who shied away from scoring. He was a millionaire who dressed (and talked and ate) like a communal cabbage farmer. Most significantly of all, he was a very large, 7-foot man with the feet of a doormouse. They weren’t small. They were fragile, skittish, and when stepped upon, the consistency of squeaky pudding.
In the second chapter of the Book of Daniel, the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar (ed. still not as hard to spell as “Przybilla”) reputedly dreamed of a towering statue with head of gold, chest and arms of silver, midsection of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of clay. Though the top of the statue seemed invulnerable, a rolling stone toppled the whole thing simply by crushing its feet.
The text does not mention it specifically, but many Biblical scholars believe that Nebuchadnezzar’s statue also boasted long, red hair and wore the number 32.
Foot problems plagued Walton from the start. When he could stay on the floor, he was amazing. 13 points, 13 rebounds and 51% shooting are fine numbers for any rookie. He only played 35 games his first season, forced to call it quits in mid-February.
1975-76 was somewhat better. Walton averaged 16 and 13.5, appearing 51 times. He’d play weeks in a row, then not be able to go for a month. His issues weren’t chronic and nagging. They were major and hard to compensate for. He would rehab endlessly, take the floor again for a while, then hold his breath against the next twinge in his foot—or compensation soreness in his knee—that would signal another exit.
By the end of 1976, Blazers fans—and some of the franchise staff—were more disillusioned than excited about their young center. Walton was like a Lamborghini on blocks in the garage. The ultimate dream came with plenty of repair costs and frustration.
Two major developments changed the picture that summer.
First, Portland hired Buffalo head coach Jack Ramsay, who took the position specifically because of Walton’s promise. Ramsay coached a fluid, speedy, passing attack that required infallible rebounding, a quick turn-around into transition, and five players who could move the ball. Centers had often been a hitch in his giddy-up. Being big, they were naturally slow. Few had learned the fundamentals of passing, outlet or otherwise. Fewer still considered themselves a conduit in the halfcourt offense. They lacked range and vision. Their job description included catching the ball two feet from the rim, turning around, and putting the ball right in. Most centers were endpoints, not facilitators.
Walton was the antithesis of tradition. He was a great rebounder, but an even better outlet passer. He could catch, turn, and fire off a missile while his lumbering counterparts were still staring where the ball used to be. In the halfcourt offense he could play high post or low. Bringing him out to the foul line cleared the middle for guards to cut and forwards to rebound. With lane and baseline open, the team could run screen action in the key, free up shooters, and misdirect defenders.
Walton was special. He could see it all happening, identify the correct pass, then put the ball on target as naturally as breathing. If no pass was available, he was capable of turning and hitting the shot from the foul line or wheeling into the lane for the dunk.
Walton was Ramsay’s ideal center. Abdul-Jabbar himself wouldn’t have been better. Jack was salivating to work with Bill.
Also that summer, the Blazers picked up power forward Maurice Lucas out of the ABA expansion draft. Lucas was tough, “The Enforcer”. This was a quality Walton lacked. (As did much of the Portland roster.) After that draft, anyone who wanted to mess with the Blazers had to mess with Luke first. Not too many people did. Those who tried it usually ended up looking at the lights. Roll a d6 to see whether they were arena, locker room, or hospital.
Lucas also had a mean jumper and could hit it from the baseline...fantastic in the Ramsay system. Portland’s incumbent shooting guard, Lionel Hollins, could run the break, hit jumpers from the angles, or drive with equal ease. He was also a great defender. Small forward Bobby Gross was a good defender with passing and shooting skills. Dave Twardzik drove fearlessly, dished well, and hit 60% from the field. Johnny Davis was quick, Larry Steele was clever. Between them, the Blazers had everything they needed...if Walton was healthy.
In 1976-77 he finally was. Walton played 65 games, displaying the most beautiful skill set anyone could imagine from a man that size. It was everything Ramsay could have dreamed.
Portland got a burst of confidence to start the season. They won 7 of their first 8 with Walton averaging 20 points, 17 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks, a steal, and 54% shooting. He scored like a wing, passed like a point guard, rebounded like a power forward, and defended like a center. Even his most devout supporters couldn’t have imagined this was coming. His former critics converted quickly.
This was just the beginning.
Walton poured in 30 against the high-powered Philadelphia 76’ers on December 11th. One week later he pulled down 26 rebounds while scoring 28 against Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers. On the 14th of January he dished 9 assists past the San Antonio Spurs defense. On the 23rd he did the same thing to the Boston Celtics. On the 26th he blocked 9 shots against Dan Issel and the Denver Nuggets.
By the time the season was half done, Walton was not only doing the, “pass like a guard, rebound like a forward thing”, he was passing like the best guards and rebounding like the most dominant forwards in the league. And he was doing it against the greatest teams and finest opposing centers the NBA had to offer.
Forget Walton’s contemporaries. You’d have to dial forward to Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan before you’d find players who could do so many things from so many positions on the floor at a world-class level like that. It wasn’t just uncanny, it was unbelievable.
Though Walton would be named an All-Star that year, the Blazers were not a one-man show. Lucas was averaging 20 points per game, more than Walton himself. Four of Portland’s top seven players shot 50% or better from the field. Six of them averaged double figures. The Blazers had the second best offensive efficiency and the fifth best defensive efficiency in the league. Walton wasn’t just better himself, he was making everyone around him better.
For all that, Portland’s regular season was an extended shakedown cruise. Seven of their top eleven players had not appeared regularly with each other before that season. Six of them had not even been there prior to that summer. That included both point guards and every single big man outside of Walton and Lloyd Neal. It was a miracle—and a testament to Walton’s ability to anchor a team—that a roster that inexperienced could perform at such a high level for a month, let alone a season.
The team did have streaky tendencies. They’d win or lose in droves. But the winning streaks were longer and came more frequently. After 82 games, they owned 49 victories. Walton’s final regular season stat line read: 18.6 points, 14.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 3.2 blocks, 1.0 steals, 52.8% shooting from the field. Those rebounding and blocked shot numbers led the NBA.
Despite the wins and good vibes, the Blazers were only seeded third in the West. The Lakers and Nuggets finished above them. Meanwhile the Sixers and Rockets were on the same level in the Eastern Conference. Yes, Portland had arrived at the 1977 NBA Playoffs with a metaphorical upgrade to first class. The minute they stepped off that plane, it was going to be a battle.
The first opponent on Portland’s postseason slate was the Chicago Bulls. They started center Artis Gilmore, a sky-scraping tyrant who resembled a video game boss battle more than an NBA player. The giant gave Portland what-for, averaging 19 points and 13 rebounds in the series. Walton averaged 17 and 12. With little-known power forward Mickey Johnson scoring 27 a night (roughly twice his season average), the Blazers got into a bit of trouble. This was particularly dangerous as first-round NBA series used to be best-of-three. If the favored team sneezed at the wrong time, they’d be going home.
Portland did lose a game to the Bulls, but in the end their collective 53.6% field goal shooting and 66% assist rate carried the day.
The next foe was no easier. The Nuggets would send scoring phenom David Thompson and multi-tool center Issel against the Blazers. Issel was a completely different player than Gilmore. He was big, but he had range and passing ability. Walton would not only have to cover the rim, but half of the floor.
The Blazers stole homecourt advantage in Game 1 of the series, edging Denver by a single point. Issel had 28 and 8, but Walton gave his team 22 and 12. With Dollar Bill pulled away from the rim, forwards Lucas and Gross picked up the heavy lifting on the glass. Denver took Game 2, but Portland captured Games 3 and 4 on their home court. Thompson made that third game scary by putting up 40. Walton and Lucas responded with 26 and 27, respectively. Walton also held Issel to 7-17 shooting and 14 points that night. This demonstrated the key difference between the teams. Denver was choosing between scorers Thompson’s gain was Issel’s loss. Portland’s offense was not zero sum, but fun for all.
The Blazers lost once more in Denver, then captured the series at home in Game 6. They had advanced to the Conference Finals. That brought the stiffest challenge of all, Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers.
Up until this point, the national attention granted Portland had been muted. Most people outside of the Northwest wouldn’t have known Bill Walton from Bill Bradley. But L.A. games were always hot and a matchup between the two great centers from UCLA was too juicy of a story for the media to pass up. Kareem was the experienced superstar, Walton the young lion trying to topple the king. You could not find two better pivots anywhere in the world. The nation’s eyes were beginning to focus on the titanic battle.
Except it wasn’t much of a battle, at least not from a team perspective. Abdul-Jabbar was huge. Individually, he won the matchup with Walton handily, scoring 30 with 16 rebounds compared to just 19 and 15 for Bill. Walton had 2.3 blocks, Abdul-Jabbar 3.8. Walton shot 56%, Kareem 61%. Everything Bill did, Kareem did better. The Lakers just couldn’t handle Portland’s team play. Lucas, Hollins, even little-used Herm Gilliam got in on the act. While Walton and Abdul-Jabbar wrestled in a corner, the rest of the Blazers took the Lakers supporting cast to the cleaners in a four-game sweep.
That was exactly how Walton worked. Even if he could have scored 30, he probably wouldn’t have. He wasn’t going to shy away from anything or anyone. No doubt he’d be upset if he weren’t in the middle of basically everything that went on. But once ensconced, his job was to orchestrate the win, or at least take his man out so others could do so. He didn’t care as much about stats as the victory. Normally that outlook qualifies you for a blue-collar, role-player slot. This philosophy was embodied by Portland’s superstar, arguably the second best center in the league, a man gracing covers of Sports Illustrated and making NBA history.
The Blazers faced the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1977 NBA Finals. This was a different kind of challenge altogether. Their center was a rookie, Darryl Dawkins. He was not yet into his Chocolate Thunder days, just a second-year Peep, destined to average 7 points and 5 rebounds in the series. Philly’s second center, Caldwell Jones, was a good defender but not a point producer. At long last, Walton would be freed from guarding stars and superstars.
Portland’s guards and forwards, on the other hand, had their hands full. The Sixers were led by Julius “Dr. J” Erving, the most dynamic player in the league at the time. He floated like a butterfly, stung like a bee, and dunked like a demon. World B. Free dazzled with his offense. Doug Collins and Henry Bibby were dangerous point guards, capable of dropping 20 any night of the week. George McGinnis was a walking bucket at power forward. He had averaged 30 points in his final year in the ABA and was producing 21 this season. Everywhere you looked except center, the Sixers had enough firepower to fry your fritters.
That’s exactly what the star-studded roster did to the poor Blazers in the first two games of the series. Dr. J scored 33 in Game 1, Collins 27 in Game 2. In a heartbeat, Portland was down 0-2. Walton had served up 28 and 20 in the first matchup. That was sufficient to keep Portland close, not enough to deliver the win. He struggled in the second game, leaving the Blazers on the wrong side of a blowout. After a fantastic run to get there, it seemed like the whole thing would fall apart at the big show.
That’s not what happened, though. As soon as the series returned to Portland, the Blazers destroyed the Sixers twice, in no small part due to Walton. The big man was at his wheeling, dealing best, pulling his counterparts out on the floor, then slicing them up with drives and passes. Walton’s 20 points and 18 rebounds in Game 3 gave Portland a 22-point victory. He took only 10 shots and scored 12 in Game 4, but he kept the Sixers on their heels with 7 assists in 26 minutes. With his team winning by 32, he was able to take most of the game off.
Portland’s confidence in the face of adversity was even more impressive than stats or victory margins. They weren’t just unfazed by the losses (and Dr. J using them like a five-man pinball machine), they actually ate it up. From the moment they walked on the floor for that third game, they knew there was no way they were losing. By the time the fourth quarter of Game 3 rolled around, the same Sixers that had been laughing behind their hands were now throwing up their hands and swearing at the opponent, the refs, each other, and the universe.
The Blazers and Walton were unstoppable. The discombobulated Sixers didn’t know how to handle them.
Game 5 was a huge test. The Blazers returned to Philly and walked right into the teeth of Erving, who scored 37. Collins added 23. Once again Walton scored modestly, with 14 points. (He grabbed 24 boards, though). Stepping in for Bill, six Blazers scored in double figures that night, Gross and Lucas both contributing 20+.
Nowhere did the contrast between the two teams show up so clearly. Put under pressure like that, the temptation to fall back on your star—making the game a duel between its two best players—is enormous. Instead of trying to match Dr. J bucket for bucket, Walton attempted only 11 shots in 39 minutes. That was the low mark among Portland’s starters. Resilient teamwork overcame theatrics. The Blazers won 110-104. They were now one game away from taking it all.
Most Blazers fans know the outcome of Game 6 by heart. Dr. J once again gave everything he had, scoring 40 points in 43 minutes. Walton posted a 20 point, 23 rebound game with 7 assists besides. Erving’s aerial ministry came up against Bill’s chess-like logic. It was close, 109-107. In the end, the Blazers didn’t win it with a big bucket, but a big stop. Philadelphia had the final possession. McGinnis missed a short shot off a drive. As the clock expired, the Memorial Coliseum and the entire state of Oregon turned into a madhouse.
At about 2 minutes and 18 seconds past the hour of two o’clock, the Portland Trail Blazers became the champions of the world. It was a singular feat in the lifetime of the franchise.
It’s hard to overestimate the importance of that moment. In one instant, Walton became an icon. The hair, his bicycle, the goofy geniality...all of these now exemplified an NBA Champion and Finals MVP. The straight-laced, buttoned-down community that had once viewed the center with suspicion because of his lifestyle (and disdain because of his injuries) now embraced him as a cultural hero. He was mobbed, feted, and talked about incessantly. In the post-game locker room, Ramsay would say of Walton, “He is the greatest player playing the game. Our whole game is built around him.”
It wasn’t just Portland, either. The national media feasted on the “team triumphs over individual” trope, treating the Blazers victory like the NBA’s version of “Hoosiers”. Walton’s face and form became instantly recognizable throughout the nation, not just in the sports world, but among common folk. He and the Trail Blazers were now the primary identifying mark of the Rose City, the thing everybody started talking about when you said, “I’m from Portland.”
Back home, the city itself was going crazy. 90% of the state had tuned in to see the team win it all. Even more were now ready to celebrate. Portland’s official population in the 1970’s hovered around 300,000. It was estimated that 400.000-500,000 people lined downtown streets for the victory parade. A modern team would be ecstatic to tab 10% of their metropolitan populace as dedicated fans. The 1977 Blazers could claim somewhere between 133% and 166%.
The buzz didn’t fade, either. Kids who used to dream of being astronauts or police officers now aspired to be 6’11 NBA players leading their team to a championship. Teachers started using basketball stats during math instructions. Construction workers, taxi drivers, and attorneys debated potential draftees and trade candidates.
This enduring passion revealed the true legacy of the title win. It wasn’t just about being the #1 team in the NBA. That designation would pass to Wes Unseld and the Washington Bullets a year later. They could take the trophy, but they could never have, or duplicate, Blazermania.
That term entered the sports lexicon in the aftermath of victory. It embodied a small town so committed to their team that the two became inseparable. Portland became the archetype. “Blazermania” meant homemade signs decorating the stands, Walton’s bike taken and then returned at the victory parade, season ticket hopefuls holding on a waiting list for years, high-fiving when they finally got through. Blazermania was fans falling in love with Ramsay’s plaid jackets and radio broadcaster Bill Schonely coming into the living room as part of the family. It was the spirit that carried the Blazers to an 814-game sellout streak, momentum lasting a full decade beyond the actual title win.
The 1977 championship set an expectation for excellence which would shape Portland’s basketball perceptions for decades. Everyone watching had seen beautiful, unselfish play. Those concepts became touchstones for the franchise. Portland fans would applaud a great rebound or smart assist as readily as the points that flowed from them. They’d celebrate blue-collar forwards and ball-moving point guards for generations afterwards.
When the next big wave of great basketball came, Terry Porter, Jerome Kersey, and Buck Williams were held in as high regard as Clyde Drexler, sometimes even more so. They weren’t as talented. They didn’t produce as much. They were candles on the national stage next to Drexler’s blowtorch. In Portland, they became legendary heroes.
When Arvydas Sabonis arrived in 1995, Blazers fans were unreasonably happy to embrace him. He was slow, lumbering, a mere shadow compared to his glory days playing internationally. But he was an unselfish center who could pass, rebound, and shoot. Sabonis could not have found an NBA fan base more ready to love him.
Conversely, Rasheed Wallace was vilified when he dared to suggest that professional basketball was more about money than loyalty to a uniform. Many Blazers fans hated his approach and attitude. Later, he’d fit right in with the Detroit Pistons, inheritors of a “Bad Boys” culture instead of Portland’s unselfish and homey one.
Some will question what impact a player—or a moment—from 40 years ago can have today. Gardens spring from topsoil, but topsoil rests on bedrock. You may not have been alive when the Blazers won it all, but chances are you have learned about Portland basketball either from someone who was or from the next generation removed.
What distinguishes the Blazers from the Minnesota Timberwolves, Charlotte Hornets, or any other relatively anonymous small-market franchise? Why do Minnesota fans celebrate just making the playoffs, whereas most long-time Portland fans reach for something more? What kept the sellout streak going? Why did the Jail Blazers era feel so bad? (After all, it was just a pro sports team, populated by people who kind of seemed like rich jerks. That’s not unusual.) Why have Brandon Roy and Damian Lillard’s careers brought such joy, even moving people to tears?
If you step back and look at things from a detached, logical perspective, nothing has happened in Portland that hasn’t also happened in Sacramento or a dozen other places. The unique part of the Blazers story is not that events X, Y, and Z occurred. It’s that they meant so much.
They meant so much in large part because, in that Big Bang moment of 1977, Walton and his team proved to the city that basketball was awesome and the team was worth rallying around. That would not have happened in the same way without a championship. That championship would not have happened without Bill. THAT’S the significance he had.
If I may indulge in some personal speculation here, I’m guessing two latent effects from that championship season have proven deeply important to Portland and to this site’s community in particular.
- In the mid-2000’s, following the Jail Blazers fiasco, the team was losing money. The shell company that managed the Rose Garden for owner Paul Allen went into bankruptcy. Seattle was vacant at the time, as were other potential NBA towns. Allen had an open avenue to move the team or sell it to someone who would. He did not. When the critical moment came, he felt loyalty to the city and its relationship with the team over and above financial gain or his own convenience. Prior owner Larry Weinberg had felt the same. As he sold to Allen, he extracted a promise that the team would not be moved. The something that kept the team and city glued together even through the worst of times stemmed from the 1970’s...one owner who lived through the championship directly, one who was a fan at the time and saw how it changed the community around him. Because of the title and Portland’s reaction to it, when the owners saved the team, they knew they were doing something that mattered.
- As internet journalism and opinion writing became viable, how many of the smartest, greatest, most passionate and engaged writers/journalists/media producers came from Portland or went through Portland’s system? Name somebody famous outside of Bill Simmons and Stephen A. Smith. Pick a writer or analyst that you respect. It’s 50-50 that your tippy-top person has been in Portland’s orbit somewhere: John Hollinger, Henry Abbott, Chris Haynes, Ben Golliver. For years Blazers fans were known as some of the smartest, most prolific around. They couldn’t get enough of basketball. It’s fair to ask whether the site you’re reading right now—the one that embarked on this Top 100 list, producing multiple articles and thousands of words per day during a hiatus that left most of the rest of the NBA world scratching their heads and silent—would even exist without that 1977 Title and the culture it spawned.
You can’t see the immediate effects of the work Bill Walton and company did above the surface anymore. Too many layers have grown over the landscape in the interim. I guarantee you the environment around the Blazers, our perceptions of the team and ourselves, would be different—probably more impoverished—had that event not happened. There’s a non-zero chance that the team wouldn’t even be here anymore, that we’d be talking about the Seattle or Las Vegas Trail Blazers.
The ‘77 title wasn’t the end of Walton’s story, just the crowning achievement in it. The Blazers would do even better at the start of 1977-78. They got off to a 50-10 start, all but destined to repeat as World Champions. Nobody was close to their level of play. Then disaster struck as Walton’s foot problems reared up again.
Throughout the month of February Walton had been feeling familiar twinges. In earlier years he would have rested. Back then he did not believe in pain killers or injections. Now, with things going so well, he felt pressure to keep playing. He accepted the shots, making a go of it. On February 28th, 1978, he played 13 minutes in a blowout win against the Sixers. In the second quarter he checked himself out of the game and headed to the locker room. Doctors couldn’t figure out exactly what was wrong. He just couldn’t play. The 50-10 Blazers finished the season 8-14 without him.
Walton tried to return for the playoffs that year, again with medical assistance to dampen the pain. As the first seed in the conference, the Blazers had a bye into the second round. He made it through 34 minutes in Game 1 against the Seattle Supersonics, just 15 in Game 2. That was it. He was done. Without their center to hold them together, the Blazers lost the series 2-4. The title would pass on to someone else.
Despite that, Walton was named the MVP of the 1977-78 season, the only time a Portland player has ever won the ultimate individual award. Through 50 seasons and 339 players, only one other player besides Walton would ever come close.
The verdict that summer ended up being a broken foot. Recovery would be long. Walton would sit out the entire 1978-79 season. Portland’s win total dropped from 58 to 45. They were ousted from the first round of the playoffs in perfunctory fashion.
At this point, muttering began again. People wondered when Walton would be healthy enough to play. Shouldn’t a player making that much money give it a go anyway? Why wouldn’t he even try? The brand-new Portland faithful weren’t callous, just naive.
This time, resentment flowed back from Walton. He sued the team’s medical staff, claiming disregard for his health in the rush to win games. When his contract expired in 1979, Walton took his talents to his hometown of San Diego, signing with the Clippers.
The reaction in Portland was mixed. He’d been injured every season he’d been in town. Fans weren’t sure if he would ever play again. At the same time, losing the championship figurehead hurt...more so as the years rolled by and people realized that Ramsay’s system wasn’t going to bring more rings when he lacked the best talent in the NBA to play in it.
Walton played only 14 games for the Clippers in 1979-80 before falling again. He spent the rest of that season, plus the next two, rehabbing. He returned for 33 games in 1982-83, 55 in 1983-84, and 67 in 1984-85. His brain and spirit were as strong as ever, but his feet were shot. Moving like a glacier wrapped in duct tape covered in molasses, he was no longer a centerpiece. He was fortunate to be a piece at all.
The veteran made a comeback in 1985-86, joining Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics as a bench player. He played an unprecedented 80 games, helping his team win the title that season. It was his second, a bittersweet call-back to what might have been had he been able to remain healthy in Portland. That year, he won the NBA 6th Man of the Year award.
Walton would return the next season. He only managed 10 games before injuring his foot again. This time, his career was over.
Walton found new life as a broadcast analyst, first of college games, then nationally with the NBA. He often joined legendary Blazers broadcaster (and former teammate) Steve Jones in the booth. Walton’s outlandish proclamations and Jones’ sarcastic incredulity led to memorable moments, and plenty of laughs, for viewers.
Walton would be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 1993. In 1996 he was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.
Outside of Damian Lillard, Walton remains, to this day, the most recognizable name and face in Blazers franchise history. No matter what he did—good, bad, or indifferent—he was bound to stand out. Through all the injuries, trials, and frustrations, his dedication and talent ensured that his standing out ended up outstanding.
For the title that birthed Blazermania, for winning the MVP, for the popular acclaim, the historical moments, and for being—albeit for a briefer time than anyone would have wished—the single best all-around player the franchise has ever seen, Bill Walton sits at the summit of our Top 100 List of Trail Blazers players and influencers.
You can discover far more about Bill Walton through his autobiography, Back from the Dead.
Thanks go out to the Blazer’s Edge staff for their help with this list. Timmay chose wonderfully appropriate pictures for each entry. Steve Dewald edited and offered advice, as did Eric Griffith. Thanks also to all of you who commented, critiqued, and celebrated along the way.
It seems appropriate that we end this journey together in the exact 24-hour frame in which we find out that the 2019-20 NBA season will resume. It’s been a heck of a ride.
Shout out and enormous credit to basketball-reference.com and to all who wrote articles and books about the Trail Blazers past that helped inform this work.