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NBA Legend Dies: A Personal Ode to My Hero


A story dedicated to my childhood idol. Bill Walton. A great basketball player and a better man. RIP peace my brother 🌱❤️🏀🌺


Yes, in 1977, I was a world champion. I showed up for every game. I yelled and screamed and booed at the referee. I did everything in my power to win. I was locked in, completely focused.


I was there for all the pre-game preparations.  I read all the news and gossip, and memorized the box scores. I scouted the other teams and players. The thought of how we were going to contain the super human Dr. J (Julius Erving of the Philadelphia 76ers) kept me up at night. Should we double-team him or let Bobby Gross play him straight up? Or should we foul him and make him shoot free throws?? Was he a "real" doctor? This occupied me more than anything.


My team was the Portland Trail Blazers.  It was more than basketball or a sport, it was the glue that literally bonded my family together. When we watched this magical team play, not only the entire city of Portland came together, but my family connected at another level.  The infighting and bickering were replaced by spontaneous joy of rooting for one single entity, a team destined to make history.


The Blazers were led by many talented individuals; Bobby Gross, Dave Twardzik, Lionel Hollins, and guided by the legendary coach jack Ramsey.  But the real stars were Maurice Lucas and a long haired hippie named Bill Walton.  These two titans were the yin and yang of professional basketball. Lucas was the gladiator, the enforcer; modern day equivalent of Karl Malone. Walton dominated with his skills and basketball IQ he learned from the legendary UCLA coach John Wooden. His pinpoint passing, the signature bank shot, defensive prowess, and his passion and leadership guided the Blazers to the pinnacle of the basketball world.


I remember like it was yesterday the trip to the Oregon coast at playoff time. My dad was preoccupied with getting us to the motel in time for tip off for game 3 of NBA championship.  The car ride was tense. The Blazers had lost the first two in Portland, and losing the third game would have been a death sentence.


We rented a small cabin on the Pacific Ocean.  The air was filled with salt and sea, unique only to this part of the world.  The untamed ocean smashed against the rugged landscape of giant boulders and evergreen trees.


We were all nervous about the upcoming game.  The 76ers dominated the Blazers in the first two games of the series.  It wasn't even close.  Brent Musberger, the play by play announcer for ABC, had already declared the East Coast team champions, giving Portland no chance of winning.  His biased commentary was so insulating by dad called him a Un-American.


We checked into the rustic one-bedroom cabin. The floors were linoleum, with furniture and flowered curtains from the 50s.  After turning on the heat source, my dad immediately turned his attention towards the TV or what we called the "boob tube".  The black and white box was our only connection to the outside world and our only hope to tune into that night's all important game.


My dad approached the vintage appliance like an astronaut on a mission.  He checked the power supply. Check. He positioned the TV towards the checkered forest green furniture in the small living room for maximum viewing enjoyment. Check check.


He adjusted the rabbit ears for maximum reception. And then, the moment of truth, with my brothers and me watching, he turned on the old box.


We held our collective breath as the light flickered on the screen and the glow of the transistors could be seen in the back of the box. Within a few seconds, the box lit up, and we were in business.


The telecast of the game started as usual. The producers would always introduce the host city with a flyover from above the city  and then zoom in on a famous landmark.


"Welcome to game 3 of the 1977 NBA World championship, everyone...." Brent Muesberger announced as the camera panned in on the Liberty Bell, Philadelphia's most famous landmark. ".... between the Philadelphia 76ers and the upstart Portland trailblazers."


Listening to Musbergers opening remarks shot a tingling sensation through my 7-year-old body.  The thought of my hometown team representing us in front of the world filled me with great pride.  Yes, I am from Portland! Yes, those are my heroes! Yes, that's MY team!


The game started better than I could've ever have hoped for.  The team came out firing on all cylinders, immediately erasing my fears that they would flop again on the biggest stage.


The trailblazer defense was creating havoc for the over-confident 76ers. They denied the ball to Dr J and pushed their opposition into costly turnovers.


"Block by Walton! Walton quickly outlets to a flying Bobby Gross for a dunk! Blazers up by 12!" Musberger yelled in the microphone while 17,547 76ers fans sat eerily quiet in the spectrum. My family erupted in complete joy! This was our moment! Gone was the heaviness of everyday family life.  The stress and underlying unhappiness was replaced by triumph and joy!


Six days later, the Portland Trail Blazers were crowned 1977 NBA World Champions. At 54, it still sends shivers through my adult body to reflect on this time. The city erupted in celebration.  My small town conquered the world.  Strangers hugged each other like long-lost friends. A parade commenced to celebrate our heroes.  I was so proud of my hometown.


And yet with all the headlines, something still stands out in my memory of this special time; the story involved a stolen bike.


Bill Walton was famous for riding his bike everywhere in Portland.  His 6'11" frame on top of a custom fitted road bike was a common sight on the streets of Portland. And on the day of the parade, a momentous day for him and his teammates,  he rode his bike to the event. But this time the bike was stolen during the commotion of the wild celebration.  The news spread quickly that Walton's prized bicycle had been taken.


The next day, the bike was returned to our hero. And for the second time, the people of Portland showed the world what a great city looked liked.

4 comments

4 Comments


Guest
a day ago

It's a nice story, and one I can relate to, mostly. The facts are that game three was in Portland. The Blazers lost the first two in Philly, the first a fairly close final score, and the second a blowout due to the skirmish between Lucas and Dawkins. When the teams were announced in that third game, Philly was greeted by rousing boos and raspberries around. The Blazers were announced, guards and Gross first, then Lucas, who took one step toward his teammates waiting on the key, before he sprinted down to the 76er's bench. You could hear a pin drop as everyone held their collective breath. Then Lucas extending his had to Dawkins as a form of one-upsmanship, rendered him useless to Phil…

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What a great story! Been to many Blazer games and served them @Ringside over the years! Can relate to family unity through basketball too! 🏀❤️

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Love this article, Scotty!!! Shared on Twitter. Bill Walton was such a class act. Just one thought, though. Looked great in Laker purple and yellow :-)



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As a Portland native, I appreciate reading this. Thank you for sharing your beautiful memories! ❤️🖤

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