Word on the Street

Walton’s Foot (wolt’-uhnz foot) noun. A damning vulnerability or fatal flaw that can (and often does) doom an otherwise talented player or team.

Usage example:Allen Iverson’s “I’m gonna do things my way and my way only” attitude has always been his Walton’s foot.”

Word history: I coined this term some time in the last couple years because I got tired of using the phrase Achilles’ heel. As you probably know, that term originates from the mortal weakness of Achilles, a Greek hero of the Trojan War and the central character of Homer’s Iliad.

How good was Bill Walton? Well, he won the MVP during a season (1977-78) in which he played only 58 games. Something like that had never happened before …and it hasn’t happened since. But a better question is: how good would Walton have been if he’d been born with normal human feet? Many people have said that, in his early years, Walton was the best center on the planet when healthy. Unfortunately, he was never healthy.

Walton’s basketball life was plagued by legendary foot problems, which were made worse by an insistence on playing through injuries and his use of prescription medication to mask the pain associated with them. The Big Redhead appeared in only 468 games during his 10-year career. That’s the equivalent of about five-and-a-half seasons. Take away his magical 1985-86 season with the Boston Celtics – during which he hobbled through a career-best 80 games – and Walton never played more than 67 games in a single season. And those 67 games were for the 1984-85 L.A. Clippers, which is kind of like saying they never happened at all. For the record, that was the Clippers’ first season in Los Angeles. They won only 31 games. Even back then, they were who we would later think they were.

Walton is best known for his days with the Portland Trail Blazers – during which he won an NBA title and Finals MVP (in 1977) and that regular season MVP – but he missed 119 games over his four seasons with the Blazers …and things ended badly. From the SI.com vault:

Last Friday evening, as reports began circulating that he might miss more than half of the coming season, Bill Walton left a Portland, Ore. clinic with a cast on his left leg. With the addition of the cast, the puzzle of what had happened to Walton, what had made him demand to be traded from the Trail Blazers, grew even more complicated. The sudden move left some friendships strained. It also left the city’s basketball fans stunned. Just 14 months before, Walton was leading a raucous victory parade through the streets of downtown Portland after the Trail Blazers had won the National Basketball Association championship.

The initial shock came after a secret meeting in Chicago on Aug. 1 when Walton, who was voted the league’s MVP last season, demanded that the Blazers trade him as soon as possible to a team of his choosing, which, late Sunday night, he announced was the Golden State Warriors.

Even more unsettling was the announcement from the Portland club that it “will attempt to abide by his request.” And what made the whole thing a mystery was the addendum to which both sides agreed, at Walton’s insistence: not to discuss the whys and wherefores of the strange affair.

Last week, however, Walton’s reasons for demanding the trade became clearer. He believed that his latest injury – a fractured bone in his left foot, which was diagnosed after he had appeared in a playoff game on April 21 – might have been avoided if the Trail Blazers had provided him with proper medical advice and care. Walton also charged the team with the misuse of the pain-modifying drugs Xylocaine and Marcaine, and the anti-inflammatory drugs Butazolidin (phenylbutazone) and Decadron (dexamethasone).

Walton eventually filed both a malpractice lawsuit and a contract grievance against the Trail Blazers, and he got what he seemingly wanted: a one-way ticket out of Portland.

But what Walton really wanted was his health back. He never really got it. Even his one “healthy” season in Boston was tainted by a broken nose (which happened twice) and a broken bone in his wrist. Walton concealed the wrist injury because he felt the ’86 Celtics were a special team (they were) and he wanted to finish the season (he did). But it was still Classic Walton. And the next summer, he broke a finger playing one-on-one against Robert Parish. While he was recovering from that injury, he tried to keep in shape by riding a stationary bike for hours on end. In doing so, he broke a bone in his “healthy” foot. That was more or less the end of his career, save for a few token appearances during the season and in the 1987 playoffs.

Before concluding, I want to make something perfectly clear: I have a lot of respect and admiration for Bill Walton. I am not mocking him. But he is a tragic figure who, like Achilles, was cut down by a natural weakness that was not his fault. This is simply my tribute to that fact.

Walton’s teams got to see a lot of this during his injury-plagued career.


Labels: Bill Walton (The Big Redhead) / Allen Iverson / Robert Parish / Boston Celtics / Los Angeles Clippers / Golden State Warriors / Portland Trail Blazers / NBA Championship / NBA MVP / NBA Finals MVP / 1987 NBA Playoffs / NBA Playoffs / NBAWord on the Street


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