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CLIMBING TO THE TOP AGAIN
John Papanek
October 15, 1979
Out for a year with injuries, a reflective, more temperate Bill Walton has changed the style—if not the substance—of his life as he starts anew in San Diego
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October 15, 1979

Climbing To The Top Again

Out for a year with injuries, a reflective, more temperate Bill Walton has changed the style—if not the substance—of his life as he starts anew in San Diego

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"It wasn't the money?"

"It's never been a matter of money. You know the Grateful Dead line, We used to play for silver, now we play for life? I play for my life. I'd play every minute I could even if there was no money at all. I enjoy the money, but mostly what I enjoy is getting out there in a gym with a few basketball players, some shoes, balls, rims...it's grrreat! There's nothing I'd rather do. Especially now, because for a year and a half I was forced not to. That was the first time since I was eight that I laid out that long. It was terrible. Before I got to Portland I was never really injured. My rookie year I was leading the league in blocked shots and shooting 51% after 17 games, when my foot went out. My doctor said it was bone spurs. But the Trail Blazer doctor said, 'Here. Take these pills and shots and you'll be fine.' "

Walton laughs. He often laughs when recalling these memories, like a whistler in a graveyard.

"I didn't think so, so I refused. Boy, they didn't like that. The next year I was playing pretty well, until I came up with a sore leg one game and took the first shot of my life in order to play. An important date, February 8, 1976."

"Why did you decide to take the shot?" asks Dave.

"Hey," says Walton with another laugh. "Knocked down gets to wearin' thin."

The camping party is zippered up tight in sleeping bags and the thermometer reads 17� at midnight. Then come sounds of breaking tree limbs, heavy breathing, scratching and grunts. Walton and Dave are asleep, so it can't be either of them. "We got some bears after our food!" comes the shout.

"Hey, Dave," Bill yells. " Bears!"

"Uh-oh," says Dave.

And nobody moves. Or sleeps. For hours.

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