Though it was their first road triumph, the Blazers' inability to sustain poise away from home had not been cured. That didn't happen until they got to Phoenix last Friday night.
As a collegian Walton usually demonstrated that he was ready for a big game by dancing on the sidelines, glaring across the court, wrapping his lips over his teeth and blowing out great gusts of air from puffed-up cheeks. In those fine moments he had the appearance of some raging Neanderthal man preparing for death, and it was always a scary sight. In Phoenix, Walton was puffing his cheeks again.
Against the physical Suns, Walton and Lucas dominated the inside, sharing 44 points and 32 rebounds. Twice Portland led by 20 points, and when Phoenix cut the margin to 82-75 early in the fourth quarter, Walton simply took over. He banked in turn-around jumpers, spun for sky jams and either hurtled over or banged everybody into the dust for rebounds. He scored 11 points in a little more than seven minutes, and Portland won 113-99.
"The guy just keeps storming at you," said Phoenix Center Alvan Adams, shaking his head. "They should win the division easy."
In the Trail Blazer dressing room Walton was in rare form. "Listen up," he demanded of his teammates. "Tonight we stayed aggressive even in foul trouble. The bench picked us up [Gilliam had contributed 21 points]. Nice going, bench. Nice going, team. Now we got to keep rolling."
It was an invigorating moment for the young Blazers as well as an indication of the transformation Walton has undergone in his professional life. Though he is loath to admit to any immaturity during the past two years—Walton says he does not regret his notorious "the FBI is the enemy" line—he does say he "has learned some things about life." The Trail Blazers elected him team captain before the season, but his responsibilities go deeper than that.
Long ago Walton abandoned his "dream house," the $100,000 A-frame in the Portland suburbs, and last summer he moved into a large, old center-hall house near downtown Portland where he lives with his longtime friend Susie Guth and their 15-month-old son Adam. Walton's onetime spiritual leader, the sports militant Jack Scott, Scott's wife Micki and Walton's younger brother Andy are among others who "share our home."
Though Walton has kept his politics under wraps recently, he is not hesitant about sponsoring fund-raising get-togethers for the American Indian Movement (AIM) in his home and has commented that the recent Presidential election "went favorably for us."
All in all, Walton seems more settled, serene, happy and, yes, adult. Certainly two years of having to grow up in the newspapers and on television would tend to have that effect. Even his discomfiting stammer is notably cleared up.
"Bill's war with the people is over," says his good friend and former teammate Steve Jones. "Maybe the hair was the symbol. No more tangles, no more tears. At some point Bill realized he's a basketball player first, a political activist or whatever next. Maybe it was while he was rafting down the river."