Walton's serious summer basketball was limited to three charity games in which he played against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In fact, he volunteered his services specifically so that he could go against the Los Angeles Lakers' new center. "He played extremely well," says Willie Naulls, a friend of Walton's. Naulls, a former New York Knick and Boston Celtic who lives in the Los Angeles area, is president of the Soulville Foundation for underprivileged children, for which the games were played. "Most of the guys were not in great shape and neither was Bill, but he played very aggressively. He almost hit his head on the rim a couple of times. In the first game, he had 29 rebounds against Kareem and in the third game, out in Honolulu, he was actually outplaying him." Toward the end of the first half of that one, Abdul-Jabbar became so fed up with Walton's aggressiveness (no one is thrown out of a charity game on fouls) that he put a hard elbow in Walton's face. Walton went to a hospital to have his cheek checked out, but no damage was found.
In early September, Walton broke a toe on his right foot when he stubbed it on a lawn sprinkler at a friend's home in Los Angeles. ("He didn't tell me about it right away," says Wilkens. "He felt sheepish.") The break was a clean one, requiring only a splint on the toe, which Walton was then able to squeeze into a sneaker. He had to sit out the early practices and he missed the Trail Blazers' first two exhibition games last weekend, but he rejoined workouts late last week.
Walton's now-you-see-him, now-you-don't rookie season had his teammates and coach confused and sometimes miffed, but at training camp last week Walton seemed comfortable and happy, accepted by his teammates with no visible strain. They have never been afraid of kidding him. Last season he was fond of blaming all their colds and other ailments on the fact that they ate "dead animals." When he was struck down by influenza himself, they verbally climbed all over him. Nor is his well-publicized lifestyle exempt. The other day, when Walton asked Guard Dan Anderson whom he lived with, Anderson said, "With my wife, not in a commune." Walton just grinned and said, "Awww, c'mon."
Portland is going to need a healthy, committed Walton if it is to survive in the NBA's Pacific Division. Abdul-Jab-bar is happier playing in Los Angeles than in Milwaukee. Golden State, with young Wilkes and Rick Barry, is the defending champion, and Wilkens claims Seattle and Phoenix both will be improved as well—quite a change from the start of last season, when the Pacific looked as though it might be the NBA's feeblest division.
Walton has sold his elaborate A-frame house on the Willamette River (for close to $100,000) and moved to an old section of northwest Portland, where his roommate is Greg Lee, another ex-teammate from the "Walton Gang" days at UCLA. Lee, who is trying out for the team at guard, is also a vegetarian but is willing to drink milk. He even admits he is sorely tempted by turkey. Not Walton, though. Anyone who eats meat in his presence is treated like a cannibal.
"He goes at everything with such fervor," says Lee. This year, that may well include professional basketball.