9.19.2008

The Not So Green Mile: Walton Activated

Bill Walton's Final Months as a Boston Celtic
March 11, 1987


With one terse written announcement, the Celtics have conceivably altered the balance of power in the NBA.

"The Boston Celtics have activated center Bill Walton today. Walton , who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right ankle December 17, has not played during the 1986-87 season."

So there it is. Bill Walton begins playing basketball for real on Monday and gets activated on Wednesday. "I got here today," explained Walton. "They asked me if I wanted to play. I said, 'Yeah.' "

He wasn't kidding. When he awoke yesterday morning, he didn't know he'd be playing NBA ball that evening. He still didn't know he would be playing NBA ball when he arrived at Boston Garden. But by 5:15 or so, the discussions had been held. Walton would be activated, and he would play.

He made his 1986-87 debut with 2:30 remaining in Period 1, replacing Robert Parish. The score was tied at 21. He stayed on the floor a total of 3:51, coming out in favor of Kevin McHale with the Suns ahead, 32-29, a development for which he probably could take some credit.

For during his tour of duty, Walton lost the ball once with a clear path to the hoop, committed one personal foul in a rebounding situation and committed another personal foul on a William Bedford three-point play. The real Bill Walton wouldn't have allowed Bedford to get the ball, but who could expect much from a man in Walton's situation?

"It was great to be back out there," said Walton, "but it's going to take time to get my game back together."

"Being away from the game as long as he's been," said K.C. Jones, "timing is a word he's going to have to learn how to spell again. He's got to learn to think out there. Running up and down the practice floor, you're not being challenged."

Walton says the key phase of his rehabilitation from a foot injury was the 2 1/2-week sojourn to sunny California, where he ran on the beach and did some things he wasn't able to do here. He is ready to give the big time now for one major reason.

"I can run," he said. "Jumping is something it takes a long time to get a handle on (quipped general manager Jan Volk, 'Bill can jump; it's just not at the right time'), but running is something you can either do or cannot do. The jumping comes in time, once you get your basketball legs. As far as I'm concerned, the most important requirement to play professional basketball is the ability to run."

But his coach says he never really dismissed the idea he'd have Walton back, even if he did try not to think much about it. "What I did," said Jones, "was realize that you can't live on hope. If he's not here, he's not here. You play as if he'd never been here. If he comes back, it's a bonus."

In order to make room for Walton on the roster, Sam Vincent was placed on the injured list. He must miss a minimum of five games after sustaining a partial tear of the collateral ligament in his right knee on the last play of Friday night's game against the Los Angeles Clippers.

As for Walton, he has another 20 regular-season games to get ready for the key "Second Season" of the NBA. "The timing is good," said Larry Bird. "I'm glad it didn't go on too much longer."

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