Q&A with…Bill Walton

Besides his tragically short career, hoops legend Bill Walton was defined by his unbridled enthusiasm for life and the game he loves, leading him to utter in the history of sports broadcasting.

Now that he’s got a second lease on life, the Hall of Famer and former MVP is back to his typical joyous self.

“I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” Walton said Monday during his visit to San Antonio, where he participated in an educational seminar on the prevention and treatment of back pain and spine conditions. “I get to play in the game of life one more time. A miracle has happened.”

Walton is referring to the nine-hour procedure in early 2009 to insert four four-inch bolts, two titanium rods and a stabilizing cage into his collapsed spine, an injury that left him in such .

While his broadcast career might be over, Walton said his new passion is helping others receive treatment for their own back issues.

On an unrelated note, Bill had a typically Waltonian quote for Jeff McDonald’s upcoming feature piece on the Tim Duncan/Gregg Popovich partnership. A brief preview: “It’s a special relationship that is a model for what the world can be.” Should run this weekend so keep your eyes peeled.

Back to Bill…

How bad was your injury?

I spent three years on the ground. I was in unrelenting, excruciating pain that can only be described as being submerged in a vat of acid with an electric current running through it that I couldn’t get out of. I was just a pitiful ball of flesh writhing on the floor, begging for the pain to stop. My life was over.

How did it compare to some of your other injuries?

I spent a lifetime with bone and joint pain. There’s nothing like nerve pain. It never goes away and nothing can fix it. It destroys your life, it destroys the lives of everyone around you. It takes away the hope and the dream that tomorrow is going to be better. If you don’t have that, you don’t have much. You don’t have anything.

How do you feel today?

I am busier than ever, happier than ever. I haven’t been this healthy since high school. No pain, no medication. I had no idea what life was like without back pain. It’s a miracle what’s happened to me. So with the privilege and good fortune of health comes responsibility, duty and obligation to help other people have their dreams comes true.

How do you do that?

I spend a tremendous amount of my time working for the , an organization that provides support and advocacy for people whose lives have fallen apart because of their spine issues. And it’s just absolutely remarkable what is possible in the world today.

When you spend three years on the floor, you have a lot of time to think about what you are going to do if you ever get better. And so that’s why I go around the country. Health is the foundation of everything. Without it, nothing is attainable.

It’s an unbelievably emotional moment when I’m on the phone with people I don’t know, that they can do it. They can get through it. People are terrified about spine surgery. My spine surgery was fantastic. I’m all better. I don’t have any pain. A miracle has happened. So when I talk to people on the phone, they’ll often just break down and say, you’re the first person I’ve talked to who knows what it’s like.

When you have that unbelievable searing, scorching pain, running through your whole body, you never forget that. People who haven’t felt it have no idea. No idea. Now that I’m all better, the darkness is incomprehensible. But when you’re in that space, and your life is over, it’s very clear.

It’s every day and it’s all day. People need help. Nobody needed more help than I did, and I can’t tell you how many people called me to tell me I could make it. I didn’t believe it, but here I am today in San Antonio with the better way back. When you can move and are pain free and can think and dream, there are no limits.

Now that I’m back in the game of life, I’m ringing the chimes of freedom.


Twitter: @danmccarneySAEN

Curry or Brown — fortunately for the Spurs, it doesn’t really matter

Before we get started, let’s get something straight.

The Spurs’ season is not going to hinge on who they choose to fill their 15th roster spot. (If they choose anyone at all.)

In fact, this sort of decision doesn’t usually matter even on bad teams, let alone one that goes two-deep at pretty much every position, and is hoping to contend for the championship.

The only reason it’s become one of the main story lines of training camp is because, well, there hasn’t been much else to talk about with a veteran team that remains almost untouched from last season, when the Spurs took a 2-0 lead before crumbling against Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals.

That said, on to the battle that head coach Gregg Popovich has whittled down to two players with completely different backgrounds: Eddy Curry, the lottery bust battling to rebuild his once promising career, and Derrick Brown, a second-round journeyman just trying to get his career started.

Their playing styles and utility are equally disparate.

Curry, a classic back-to-the-basket center, still has a gift for putting the ball in the hole, as evidenced by his 68-percent shooting mark in the preseason. His aptitude at pretty much everything else that can be done on a basketball court ranges from adequate to non-existent.

An undersized tweener with a small forward’s body and a power forward’s mentality, the 6-7 Brown offers youth, athleticism and versatility. His 14-minute stint in Sunday’s loss against Orlando, during which he drilled a 3-pointer and a 20-footer, showed he might have even figured out how to hit a jump shot, in which case his value would soar.

If so, it still wouldn’t give him a single skill as discernible as Curry’s scoring ability. Which is probably why Curry dominated a recent Express-News poll about who the Spurs should take for their last roster spot. (He earned 976 votes to just 78 for Brown.)

Neither fills a glaring hole for the Spurs.

It would be one thing if Curry could help slow down the Lakers’ Dwight Howard and/or Pau Gasol. Defense and rebounding, however, have never been his forte. And while it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have another scoring option, it’s not like the Spurs struggled last season without him, leading the league in offensive efficiency and effective field-goal shooting.

It’s even tougher to see where Brown would fit in light of the abundance of bodies at his positions – Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner and DeJuan Blair at power forward, and Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson at small forward. He has more room for growth – but not enough to avoid being let go by lowly Charlotte on two different occasions. (Although judging by the Bobcats’ track record, that might actually be a positive.)

Force me to choose, and I’d probably go with Curry. In addition to giving the Spurs another big body, it would be a hell of a story if he was able to pull himself back from the brink as a contributor with the NBA’s model franchise.

Fortunately for the Spurs, they’re in the position where picking whoever gets to sit on the end of their bench isn’t going to make much of an impact on their season.


Twitter: @danmccarneySAEN

Heat 104, Spurs 101: Green has big shooting day

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Starters Danny Green and Tim Duncan led the Spurs’ offense in a 104-101 preseason loss to the Heat on Saturday afternoon in Miami.

Green was 5-of-8 on 3-pointers and 6-of-10 from the field for a team-high 17 points.

Duncan sat out the fourth quarter after recording 15 points and 6 rebounds in 16 minutes. Gary Neal had 12 points off the bench.

Rashard Lewis led the Heat with 15 points off the bench. Dwyane Wade had 13 points.

The Heat outscored the Spurs 27-16 in the fourth quarter with mostly subs on the floor for both teams.

Fourth quarter: The Spurs lead 97-95 with 2:33 left in the game. For the Spurs it’s Cory Joseph, Nando De Colo, Danny Green, Josh Powell and DeJuan Blair. For the Heat it’s Garrett Temple, Terrel Harris, Mickell Gladness, Rodney Carney and Josh Harrellson.

Jeff McDonald @JMcDonald_SAEN Josh Powell was 9-of-10 for the preseason before today’s game. This is called “regression to the mean.”

Matt Bonner, Derrick Brown and Patty Mills haven’t played today for the Spurs. Mills has been out with an injury.

It’s not a good shooting day for either Manu or Mini-Manu. Ginobili is 1-of-7 from the field. Nando De Colo is 1-of-4.

Danny Green and four subs are on the floor with 7:18 left and the Spurs leading 93-91. Gary Neal is also out there and has 12 points.

Jeff McDonald @JMcDonald_SAEN DeJuan Blair makes his first appearance of the game with 8:07 remaining.

Both teams are heading into the stretch with all their starters on the bench. We’ll get to see how some young guys and bench players perform under pressure. Even though it’s preseason, it really is pressure for the guys trying to make a team.

Danny Green is the only Spurs starter on the floor at the beginning of the fourth quarter. It’s Gary Neal, Green, Manu Ginobili, Stephen Jackson and Joseph Powell — basically three guards, a small forward and a power forward.

Jeff McDonald @JMcDonald_SAEN Nice quarter for Spurs. Behind Duncan’s 11-point quarter, they take an 85-77 lead into final frame.

Spurs 85, Heat 77 – third quarter: Tim Duncan looking steady with 15 points and 6 rebounds in 16 minutes. Gary Neal has 12 points. The Spurs had a 12-0 run in the quarter.

Dan McCarney @danmccarneysaen Gary Neal briefly considers diving for the loose ball. Screw it, it’s the preseason.

Danny Green is 6-of-9 from the field and 5-of-7 on 3-pointers for 17 points. The Spurs lead the Heat 84-74 with 2:57 left in the third quarter.

The Heat’s main guys – not including LeBron James, who is sitting today – are getting a lot of playing time. They have their five starters on the floor together with four minutes left in the third quarter.

The Spurs aren’t using as many crazy combinations as they did the first couple of playoff games, but coach Gregg Popovich is still taking a good look at a few young guys and getting his bench guys playing time.

Jeff McDonald @JMcDonald_SAEN Josh Powell at the table to check in. Interesting no Derrick Brown yet, even tho Pop singled him out pregame as a candidate for 15th spot.

Jeff McDonald @JMcDonald_SAEN Tim Duncan just took a turnover coast-to-coast for and-1. Spoelstra might want to have a talk with his guys about transition defense.

Jeff McDonald @JMcDonald_SAEN After starting the preseason 1 of 10 for 3, Green has made 8 of 12 in last two games. #streakshooter

Jeff McDonald @JMcDonald_SAEN Danny Green is 5-for-7 from 3 today. That’s almost Mike Miller-esque.

Danny Green has five 3-pointers. The Spurs still haven’t slowed down the Heat. It’s 72-72 with 6:39 left in the third quarter.

Nando De Colo starts the second half in place of Tony Parker. It’s De Colo, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw and Tim Duncan.

Heat 62, Spurs 57 – halftime: Both teams are lighting it up. The Heat are 6-of-13 on 3-pointers. Danny Green hit his second 3-pointer for the Spurs late in the half. He has 8 points. Gary Neal, Tiago Splitter and Eddy Curry lead the Spurs with 9 points each off the bench. Dwyane Wade has 13 points for the Heat and Mike Miller has 12.

Jeff McDonald @JMcDonald_SAEN Offensively, Spurs’ execution and ball movement is still a thing of beauty. Giving up 62 points and 57-percent shooting not so much.

Dan McCarney @danmccarneysaen 62 pts on 57% prolly wasn’t what Pop had in mind when he called for better defense at media day.

Dan McCarney @danmccarneysaen Who’s got the best slide dribble, Manu or D-Wade? Tough call.

Dan McCarney @danmccarneysaen Miller, Allen, Neal…got some textbook perfect strokes in this here game today.

Tiago Splitter got off to a good start at the offensive end. He made his first four shots. The Heat lead the Spurs 49-40 with 4:51 left in the second quarter.

Every acted like Mike Miller would retire after Heat won the title. He can still hit 3-pointers. He’s 4-of-4 so far today.

Dan McCarney @danmccarneysaen Pittman does look pretty good. I can see why they let Curry go. They’ve already got their Reformed Fat Guy position covered.

Gary Neal looks like the old shooting guard Gary Neal. He hit 3 of 4 shots and leads the Spurs with 9 points off the bench.

Jeff McDonald @JMcDonald_SAEN A Tiago Splitter sighting! He’s got 8 straight points for the Spurs, dating to end of 1Q. Being the roll man for Manu looks like fun.

Heat 30, Spurs 26 – first quarter: Dwyane Wade scored 11 points in a quarter that saw both teams shoot well. The Spurs hit 52 percent from the field and Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard both made early 3-pointers.

Tim Duncan and Tony Parker were the last two Spurs starters to sub out. They both played more than eight minutes to start the game. Duncan had 4 points and 4 rebounds. Parker had 3 assists.

Jeff McDonald @JMcDonald_SAEN Miami’s small lineup allows Spurs to go small too: Parker, Neal, Manu, Jack, Duncan.

Young guns Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard each hit an early 3-pointer. They scored five points each in the first six minutes of the game before going to the bench. The Spurs lead the Heat 18-14 with 5:02 left in the first quarter.

Gary Neal and Stephen Jackson are the second and third players off the Spurs’ bench. Gary Neal and Tony Parker are on the floor together, rather than Neal replacing Parker at point.

Manu Ginobili is the first player off the Spurs’ bench. He enters the game at the 6:52 mark of the first quarter. He replaces Danny Green.

Jeff McDonald @JMcDonald_SAEN Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard have combined for Spurs’ first 10 points. What shooting slump(s)?

Today’s game between the Spurs and Heat is underway. Danny Green hits a long jump shot followed by a 3-pointer for the first points of the game.

Spurs starters: Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw and Tim Duncan. For the Heat – no LeBron James today.

Jeff McDonald reports the Spurs go with their usual starting lineup today: Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw.

The Heat announced that LeBron James, Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem will not play.

The Spurs play on the road today at 2:30 p.m. (Central) against the Miami Heat.

Join Jeff McDonald and Dan McCarney for a pregame chat (below) from 2 p.m. to 2:35 p.m.

Follow along here for updates throughout the game.

You can also follow the Spurs Nation staff on twitter all season long:
Jeff McDonald at
Dan McCarney at
and Mike Monroe at