June 24, 1986
The smile is irrepressible, and it won't be falling from the face of Bill Walton for a long time.
Having just wound up a season with the Boston Celtics that culminated in an NBA championship, he's feeling so good he can barely contain himself.
At a celebrity tennis tournament at La Costa last week, Walton could not hide how much winning the title means to him. He was quick to add his new-found status to any introduction.
"That's Bill Walton of the WORLD CHAMPION Boston Celtics," he said good-naturedly, obviously proud of the distinction.
It had been nine years since he won his first NBA championship as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. That's nine years frustrated by injury or a losing record, so Walton is just going to enjoy every minute of this summer, relaxing in the glow of victory and sunshine.
"We're back in San Diego now," said Walton, who lived in Boston with his family during the season. "We're going to the beach a lot, playing a lot of tennis, just enjoying ourselves.
"I'm more appreciative of my situation now after being so far down, so far out. It's an unbelievable feeling being World Champions. We're just glad we're there."Walton said his role with the Celtics _ coming off the bench to fill in for Robert Parish or Kevin McHale _ was just what he needed to remain injury-free for the first time in his 12-year professional career.
With no physical problems to undermine his optimism, Walton is looking forward to the rest of his career.
"I feel really good about playing in the future," he said. "It's a great situation for me, playing behind Parish and McHale, two of the most durable athletes in the NBA.
"I never got worn down from playing too much. I've proven I can't play the big minutes over the course of the full season. I've also proven that if my minutes are watched, I can produce. I'm looking forward to playing for a long time."And to doing a lot of other things over this championship summer.
"I do sports because I like them," Walton said. "Some of my summertime sports are different than my wintertime sports. ... In the winter, I basically play basketball, and I do a little bit of cycling to stay loose, keep my legs toned up.
"In the summer, I just do it all _ a lot of tennis, a lot of beach volleyball, a lot of weightlifting, basketball. I just go out and play and have a good time.
"For the last three summers now, I've been able to enjoy myself. I haven't had to have any operations. I haven't had to do any major therapy. ... I wish it had been like that all the time."Celtics forward Larry Bird says Boston's chances of becoming the first team in 19 years to repeat as NBA champions hinge on the continued good heath of Walton.
"His health has a lot more to do with it," Walton said with a laugh. "I'm just happy to be there. ... It's not going to be one guy, everybody has to play well. You can't win in the NBA without everybody playing well."Recurring foot injuries have forced Walton to miss most of four seasons since he graduated from UCLA in 1974. Despite all his problems over the years, he never forgot the feeling a championship brings.
"You never lose that dream of playing for the championship, winning the championship. That's why all of us keep playing,"Walton said. "Right here at this tournament (at La Costa) last year was where the negotiations first started. Every day we were here, we were talking with the Celtics. Unfortunately, it took all summer, but it was worth it."His initial conversations from his La Costa hotel room with Red Auerbach struck a familiar chord with Walton.
"It was like being recruited by UCLA," Walton said. "You say, 'Gosh, that's what I want to do. I want to be a part of that.' "And Walton's year with the Celtics did not let him down one bit.
"It's very much like UCLA in terms of its organization, its emphasis, its treatment of the athletes. It's just first class all the way. ... It's everything I'd hoped professional basketball would be."Walton said he was proud that his children _ Adam, 10; Nathan, 7; Luke, 5; and Chris, 4 _ got a chance to witness his association with the Celtics.
"It was very good for them to see the positive side of sports _ the enthusiasm of the fans, a well-run organization, a team dedicated to winning," he said. "Seeing Bill Russell and John Havlicek coming around to practice and meeting them. As a parent, that's very important to me ... their seeing the positive side."Now, the positive side of a sunny summer in San Diego is all that's on Walton's mind.
"Right now, we're going to the beach a lot," Walton said. "We're going to enjoy this summer a lot. We worked really hard all year. Last summer was just such a drag with all the ups and downs trying to be traded. I'm going to enjoy this summer a whole lot."