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

The Spurs Prospectus podcast, Episode 2

Our boss liked the first episode, so you’re stuck with us — blogger Dan McCarney, beat writer Jeff McDonald and NBA columnist Mike Monroe — for the rest of the season. We chat about Nando “Mini Manu” De Colo, DeJuan Blair and the all-important battle for the 15th roster spot in our latest outing. Enjoy.


Things we’ve learned (or think we have) about Spurs

With four out of seven exhibition games in the books, the Spurs are a little more than halfway finished with their preseason. Though it’s difficult to draw too many conclusions from a set of games featuring more minutes from Cory Joseph, Nando De Colo and Eddy Curry than Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan, Express-News beat writer Jeff McDonald gives it a stab:

De Colo is part Argentine

He’s French, and he plays a little point guard, but that’s about the only similarity rookie Nando De Colo bears to Tony Parker. Where Parker emerged from the womb a scoring guard, De Colo at times seems allergic to shooting. Oh, but can he pass. De Colo’s slick assists — he’s averaging a team-best 4.8 per game — remind many Spurs of a young Manu Ginobili. With the Spurs jam-packed at both guard positions, De Colo is likely to begin the season at the end of the bench. If he ever does crack the rotation, however, get your popcorn ready.

Eddy Curry is hungry

No, not that kind of hungry. Hungry for a job. At 7-foot, 295 pounds, Curry arrived at training camp as in shape as he can be. The former fourth overall NBA draft pick has been a model camper, clearly motivated to resuscitate his career after appearing in only 24 games the past three seasons. Curry can still score, having notched double-digit outings in two of the Spurs’ four preseason games, but won’t help much in the rebounding or defensive departments. If he doesn’t earn the Spurs’ 15th roster spot, he’s bound to help some team this season.

There’s talent at the bottom

The Spurs don’t always carry a full 15-man roster into the regular season. But with NBA-experienced big men Curry, Josh Powell and Derrick Brown all providing positive moments, this is a year the Spurs might wish they could keep 17. Curry has size and offensive skill, Powell is averaging seven points on 9-of-10 shooting, and Brown has showcased his athleticism and enough versatility to defend small and power forwards. At this rate, cut day could come down to a high-stakes game of “eeny, meeny, miney, moe.”

Neal gets the point

In the race to become Parker’s primary backup, the incumbent holds a narrow lead. Gary Neal has been the first point guard off the bench in each preseason game, averaging a team-best 13 points while also contributing 2.5 assists and keeping his turnovers in check. More important, Neal — a shooting guard by trade — has done a credible job of running the second unit. Patty Mills, Joseph and De Colo can be expected to keep pushing Neal. If the season began today, however, he’s the backup point.

Size matters (maybe)

It hasn’t happened often. If you blinked, you probably missed it. But twice in the past two games, coach Gregg Popovich has deployed a lineup using 6-11 Tiago Splitter alongside 6-11 Tim Duncan. It is a Twin Towers look the Spurs largely avoided the past two seasons but one that could come in handy against, say, the Dwight Howard-Pau Gasol Lakers in the regular season. Stay tuned.


Twitter: @JMcDonald_SAEN