1988 NBA Playoffs: Will Bill Walton be in Uniform?

April 7, 1988

If it's the "Bill Walton in uniform for the next game" story you've been waiting to read, forget about the next few paragraphs.

The news out of practice at Hellenic College yesterday was that the Celtics will travel to Madrid in October to represent the NBA and the United States in the McDonald's Basketball Open.

The first such international three-team tournament was won by the host Milwaukee Bucks last year.

This year's field will be expanded to four teams that will play on Oct. 21 and 23. The Celtics will be joined by Real Madrid, the champion of the Italian League, and a European national team to be selected.

Two doubleheaders will be played, with the winners meeting for the championship and the losers vying for third place.

"The NBA came to us last November to see if we could fit it into our exhibition schedule -- which is usually filled a couple of years in advance," said general manager Jan Volk. "We were able to and we're very excited to be able to participate."

On the subject of Mr. Walton, who played in two consecutive quarters of a three-quarter scrimmage game yesterday, Volk said the redheaded center's return is really up to one person -- Walton.

There were a couple of reports yesterday that Walton was about ready to suit up for tomorrow night's game at Boston Garden vs. New Jersey, but Volk said that had not been determined.

"I haven't talked to Bill about it," said Volk. "I'm not expecting him back Friday, but . . . "

The fact that the GM ended his sentence with "but" makes sense in that the final word on whether Walton will return will be from Walton, coach K.C. Jones and the medical staff.

It's not a question of "if" but of "when."

Walton had surgery on his right foot and ankle last July 7 and hasn't been in the lineup since last year's playoffs, in which he saw limited action.

According to Celtics public relations official Jeff Twiss, Walton was told by team physician Arnold Scheller that he must proceed through several medical stages to determine his progress.

Walton began practicing a month ago, and yesterday's hard run was his most strenuous.

"He was looking good today," said Jones. "I asked Jim (Paxson) what he thought of cutting out there on the floor when Bill has the ball, and he said to me he could make a career off Bill's passing.

"Coming back is up to him," added K.C. "When he tells me he's ready, that's when we'll deal with it. I haven't talked to him about it. Right now I'm gonna work on my Spanish."

Walton looked quite strong at times, and also quite winded after playing 16 straight minutes. He went right to the weights after practice.

Although he isn't talking publicly about a return date, Walton reportedly told teammates prior to practice that he might not be quite ready to rejoin them tomorrow.

His intensity in practice was game-like, and his passing was superb.

"He's still a great passer. He sees everybody out there," said Jones.

Exactly when Celtics fans will have a chance to see 1986 playoff force Walton back in action was a question that couldn't be answered.

So put yesterday's "Walton Returns" story in the scrapbook with "Dewey Defeats Truman" -- but just for the time being.

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