THE WALTON SHUFFLE
In 1974, when Bill Walton was a rookie with the Portland Trail Blazers, Tom Meschery was one of the team's assistant coaches. As a player, Meschery had been a brawler; off the court, he was a poet, and a sensitive man. So Meschery knew that Bill Walton, the All-America center from UCLA, was in for a rough professional career unless he became tougher, mentally as well as physically. Walton missed a number of games during his first two seasons because of injuries. Some of his teammates suspected him of dogging it and Meschery constantly had to remind Walton that playing in pain—though a questionable practice—was a fact of life in the pros.
Eventually Walton embraced the code. Once scorned by the press and fans for his attitude, he became the embodiment of the perfect center as the Blazers won the NBA title in 1977.
Last season Walton was plagued again with injuries, missing much of the second half of the schedule because of pain in his right foot, which was alleviated by minor surgery. He came back for the playoffs, limping through the first game against Seattle because of pain in his left foot, which became so severe that it was injected with a drug before the second game. In the first half of that game, Walton supposedly suffered the break in his left foot that has had him hobbling ever since. However, reports indicate that Walton subsequently learned that X rays may have shown that his foot was already broken when a team doctor injected him before the second Seattle playoff game.
Last week he insisted that he be traded. The reason, it seems, was the medical treatment he received in Portland. Pain-killing injections are apparently responsible for Walton's disaffection with the Blazers. Said John Bassett, a Portland attorney who is acting as a Walton spokesman, "He felt that his enthusiasm for playing basketball was taken advantage of."
By quickly agreeing to Walton's demand, the Blazers made a murky situation even murkier. Now there is even talk of a possible lawsuit against the Blazers if there is no trade. It seems unlikely that the team wants to provoke any lawsuit in which medical practices would be publicly aired.
The Walton case is intriguing because the question of playing in pain is evidently at its core. After the Blazers won the '77 title, the assumption was that Walton had accepted the idea and he was praised for his maturity and newfound wisdom. Now the debate over medical practices in professional sports may start again. Which isn't all bad.
The World Eskimo-Indian Olympics have never stirred much interest even among some of those eligible to compete—Siberian Eskimos have been invited to participate since the Games began in 1971, but they have so far disdained to cross the Bering Strait to Alaska, where the Olympics are held—but what the Games lack in scope, they make up for in color.
The competitors in this year's Olympics, which took place in Fairbanks two weeks ago, were Inuit Eskimos from the North Slope, Yupik Eskimos from western Alaska, Aleuts from the Aleutians (a separate group, neither Indian nor Eskimo), Athabascan Indians from the interior, and Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Indians from southeastern Alaska. Six seal-oil lamps are lighted to start the Games, the last one by two women—one Eskimo, one Indian, to symbolize the new unity between the two peoples. Not so long ago they used to kill each other.