Let me start by saying I love Bill Walton.
If that doesn’t prompt you to move on immediately, please stay with me.
He was at UCLA when I was in college and the kids who play today in the Pac-12 Conference of Champions, as Walton says over and over during his TV broadcasts, probably have no idea he was a three-time national college player of the year.
Without all the injuries — he’s endured more than three dozen surgeries in his life — Walton would have been one of the NBA’s greatest big men. He could score, pass, defend and he played the game only to win.
Hindered by a terrible speech impediment when he was young, Walton overcame it and has made up for lost time. He never stops talking during the game, often straying into stream-of-consciousness tangents that leave his ESPN broadcast partner Dave Pasch shaking his head.
“I didn’t know how wild it would be,” Pasch once said.
I know lots of basketball fans who cannot stand Walton’s broadcast style, if you will. He is all over the map, no question. You can expect the obligatory Grateful Dead reference, and probably something about a recent outdoor adventure or cycling trek.
Oh well, it’s hoops not brain surgery. He’s a little nuts, absolutely. But he enjoys life more than almost anyone I can think of, and he gets points for that.
And Cal fans should know this: I interviewed Walton a number of years back and he loves Berkeley. In fact, he said that if John Wooden had been coaching at Cal when he was coming out of high school, he would have traded Pauley Pavilion for People’s Park and become a Golden Bear.
Anyway, during Thursday’s broadcast of the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinal between Arizona State and UCLA (where he partnered with Ted Robinson), I tried to chronicle some of Walton’s craziest observations.
Trust me, keeping up was difficult:
-- On UCLA’s interim coach: “Murray Bartow is a lot calmer than I am.”
-- On the Bruins’ freshman center: “Moses Brown is at least 7-3. He’s grown since he got here.”
-- On UCLA, barely 2 minutes into the game: “How are you going to win the game when you can’t even inbound the ball?”
-- Moments later: “One of the three worst offensive possessions in UCLA history.”
-- Out of the blue: “This has literally been a spectacular day. The preparation, the anticipation and now the realization.”
-- On ASU’s Zylan Cheatham: "He’s a physical gift from the gods.”
-- On his alma mater, as they start to fall behind: “The Bruins don’t need any excuses. UCLA has all the advantages known to man.”
-- On UCLA’s 6-10, 235-pound redshirt freshman: “Jalen Hill not only can play above the rim but his shoulders are so broad he can cover the entire lane.”
-- On Las Vegas: “What a day it’s been, this city of magic, this city of imagination. It’s all happening.”
-- On ASU freshman Lu Dort driving to the basket: “Nothing’s going to stop him. He’s like the Colorado River.”
-- On ASU’s growing second-half lead: “This is annihilation. This is like the way the Sun Devils used to play when they had Joe Caldwell.”
-- On the officiating … and other stuff: “The whistles continue to mar what should be a spectacular example of the game of life in the city of life. Did you go to the Valley of Fire for sunrise this morning?”
-- On live video of Oregon arriving at the arena: “My favorite part of the night — we know there will be another game. The Ducks have arrived. And the future Hall of Famer, Dana Altman, leading the parade off the magic bus.”
-- After an airball by UCLA’s Kris Wilkes: “That possession . . . dribble it up, dribble it back, then shoot a fadeaway three. That’s what you do down at muni gym when it’s 100 degrees at 9 a.m. and you just want to go to the beach.”
-- On the Bruins’ apparent disconnect on the court: “Las Vegas has more unlisted phone numbers than any city. The Bruins are acting like they’re not sharing any information about themselves with their teammates.”
-- On ASU’s coach: “I love Bobby Hurley. He’s not here to mess around. He’s not here to mess with people’s minds. What he’s done with this program, which for years was a morgue. As the pressure turns a lot of people into shriveling midgets, he grows.”
-- On ASU’s tenacious point guard: “Look at little Remy Martin in there, like the neighborhood pest, Dennis the Menace, trying to knock that ball away from Moses Brown.”
-- Once more on Cheatham: “Look at the way Z. Cheatham glides over the court. He’s like a statue sculpted by Leonardo, by Michelangelo.”
-- His summation, as ASU closes out an 83-72 victory: “This should have been the game of the tournament. Fouls. Selfishness. Individual agendas. Yikes.”