“Bill Walton is the best player for a big man who ever played the game of basketball." -- Philadelphia 76ers head coach Gene Shue following the Portland Trail Blazers' upset of his team in the 1976-1977 NBA Finals
For many younger Blazermaniacs, Bill Walton is looked upon with nothing but reverence. The keystone of the franchise's lone NBA Championship team, an eloquent and joyous broadcaster, an orator of etherial sentiments and bizarre musings, and a proud advocate for Portland's trademark weirdness-- Walton seems easily and deservedly beloved.
But time, through some combination of a sentimental lens and hard-learned wisdom, heals all wounds. Walton was, at best, a polarizing figure during his playing days in Portland, and might still be for those who were around for the birth of Blazermania.
Before keeping Portland weird went mainstream, Walton's counterculture lifestyle was seen by many as strange and off-putting, and something that kept him from reaching his full potential. Before the crumbling foundations of giants Sam Bowie, Greg Oden and others extinguished the hope of Blazer fans, Walton's struggles with foot and leg injuries were seen not as a consequence of being a massive human being, but a result of not working hard enough. Before his eloquent and booming voice was heard over basketball broadcasts in middle-age, he was soft-spoken and suffered from a stutter during his early playing career, contributing to a wariness of interviews and media appearances.
When Walton tussled with the Blazers organization and sat out the entire 1978-1979 season in protest, he lost many fans forever. But, some 40 years later, we can recast some of those issues in new light. For everything else, it no longer matters.
Bill Walton was one of the greatest athletes to ever don the pinwheel, and is as responsible as anyone for putting Rip City on the map.
These photos come from the Oregonian/OregonLive's new commemorative book, Blazers of Glory! The hardbound coffee-table book is stuffed full of stunning photography and amazing stories by the Oregonian/OregonLive's award-winning photographers and journalists, recounting the magical 1976-1977 season and the players on that team, plus additional features on the four decades of Blazers basketball that have built upon the spirit and legacy of '77.