Q&A with Mountain Man

March 1, 1994

Former NBA center Bill Walton's life has been filled with triumph and frustration.

The triumphs: Two national championships at UCLA, as well as NBA championships with Portland and Boston, election into the Basketball Hall of Fame, being named NBA Most Valuable Player in 1978 and four sons.

The frustration: three foot operations that forced him to miss 91/2 of the 14 seasons he played in the NBA, a severe stuttering problem that he didn't conquer until he was 28 and a failed marriage.

But Walton, 43, said he would change nothing about his life. The different experiences - good and bad - have made him into the man he is today. 

It's a man he likes, a man who has recently completed writing an autobiography titled, Nothing But Net: Give Me the Ball and Get Out of My Way.

Q. Why did you decide to write a book at this point in your life?

A. I had been asked many, many times to write a book about my life. I did it this year - and it took me seven months - and it was the hardest thing that I've ever had to do. I had always been reluctant to speak about myself because I always felt that I was a part of something great, not the main focus. I decided I wanted to write about what has been a great life for me and what can be a great life for others if they take responsibility for their own existence and own destiny.

Q. What exactly does that mean?

A. Basketball is a player's game. Players make plays, plays don't make players, just like life. Your life is a result of what you make of it.

Q. What did you love about playing basketball, and what drew you to the game?

A. I started playing basketball in the fourth grade because I loved it, and I would have played whether I was 6-11 or 5-11. I liked it because you could play it by yourself. I was a very shy kid who stuttered very badly, so I didn't have much of a social life.

Q. Who are the top five centers in the NBA, and who is the best?

A. Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning. I like Hakeem because he's the most fluid and natural of all the players. I think he understands competition the best. He has the maturity of an experienced player to realize that his job is to make the other players around him the stars of the team. He has the complete package.

Q. Why did you decidetend UCLA?

A. Because while I was being recruited by every school in the country and teams were offering me everything illegal in the world, coach John Wooden wouldn't even promise me a spot on the team. He said he'd give me a chance - a chance to get a great education and a chance to be part of a great team. I made the most of my chance.

Q. Is it hard to wonder what might have been, if you had not been injured so much?

A. My career was often one of frustration and disappointment and failed potential. It's easy to say what could have been because no one missed more games because of injury in the history of basketball than I did. But you can't live in the past.

Have you always been that philosophical?

A. I've been touched by greatness in my life. My parents (Ted and Gloria) taught me to be proud of who and what I am. The six Hall of Fame coaches that I've been associated with (John Wooden, Jack Ramsey, K.C. Jones, Lenny Wilkins, Red Auerbach and Denny Crum) taught me that greatness is achievable, and that you don't have to settle for being average and you should never let others do that, either.

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