6.05.2013

Walton Talks Pitino and Celtic Greatness




The great thing about Bill Walton is that he's Bill Walton.

He says things that are easily questioned, but it doesn't matter.

He's been there, and done it, several times, and the one thing that he believes and says again and again is irrefutable: NBA championships are about the team. It's all about the chemistry, the attitude, and, of course, the heart.

Walton knows about "team." John Wooden, one of the greatest college coaches ever, once called Walton "as fine a team player as you'll ever see. He knows there's more to the game than scoring."

Walton loved his teams at UCLA. Loved the championship team in Portland. He especially loves the Boston championship team he played on.

"I owe so much to the Celtics," Walton said. "They gave me my life back. I want to see them back on top."

But that is not going to happen soon, according to Walton, who is now an NBC commentator. The present Celtics just don't have it. No chemistry. No attitude. No heart.

They have coach Rick Pitino, but even he might not be able to get it done in time to satisfy his own impatience, much less diehard Celtics fans.

"Pitino is trying to establish his authority on the team," said Walton, who is a Pitino fan. "There has to be one guy at the top, and if the coach loses his authority, the team faces very dangerous times. It's critical that the team buys into the coach's philosophy."

What if Pitino's philosophy doesn't work?

"It has to make sense or the team won't buy it," Walton said. "The key players have to be in unison. If it's ever going to work, the players must acquiesce to what the coach says."

Can a pressing defense work in the NBA? Walton couldn't say. He argued that players make the team, not the style or defensive schemes.

Well, do the Celtics have the players to execute Pitino's philosophy.

"No," Walton said. "I was shocked when they signed Kenny Anderson. Pitino needs physical athletes. Playing defense and being physical is not what Anderson does."

Don't even ask about what Walton considers to be the key to winning championships: rebounding.

"The Celtics have no chance of competing on the boards," Walton said. "Put it this way. Neither (Vitaly) Potapenko or Tony Battie will replace Robert Parish or Kevin McHale on the all-time 50 greatest list."

What about Antoine Walker?

"He has a chance to be a big-time player," Walton said. "But so much of success involves character and personal values. That's where it all starts. It was the foundation that (Michael) Jordan used to get to the top. You can't just sit there and take wild shots."

But Pitino is in charge of personnel.

"One of the greatest assumptions that people make is that there is an endless list of quality players out there," Walton said. "There isn't. Boston is committed to assembling its championship through the draft. Unlike the Knicks or the Lakers, the Celtics appear reluctant to enter the free agency market.

"The history of the Celtics is filled with genius drafts -- (Bill) Russell, (Dave) Cowens, and (Larry) Bird, the anchors of the three Celtics dynasties. We're talking three of the top 15 players to ever play the game. They have nine most valuable players among them. Ask yourself this: Is there anyone on the Celtics right now on the verge of being a league MVP?"

Walton is right about that, and he puts so-called marquee players in context.

"Talent alone is not the sole answer," he said. "Sure it's a lot easier with talented players. But you can't tell me that Cowens had more talent than Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) or Elvin Hayes or Willis Reed. But yet he was still able to win championships."

Cowens. Bird. Russell.

"They all had heart," Walton said.

Especially Russell.

"He is the greatest winner in the history of sports," Walton said. "What's interesting about Russell is that he was considered a project in high school. He never scored double figures. The college scouts came to McClymonds High to see Paul Silas. Russell was just a role player."

While working games on NBC, Walton often collides with his colleague, Steve Jones, disagreeing on many subjects. But it's never less than civil. Just two old-school guys, talking about ball.

Walton understands the frustration of Celtics fans.

"Boston is such a special place," Walton said. "More than any other place, Boston loves basketball. They have seen the best and you can't fool them. They have a knowledge and appreciation for the game."

The NBA playoffs are about three weeks away. There's no telling how soon it will be before the Celtics are ready.

"Larry Bird was happy only three times in his life," Walton said. "Each time he had a championship trophy in his hand. If Larry wins another one as a coach, he will be happy again. But only for a little while. Then he will want another one."

Ah yes, matters of the heart.

"There's no substitute for it on a team," Walton said. "That is what Pitino is searching for. Players with heart."

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