I really just wanted Bill Walton to shut the hell up.
That was my thought of the big red-head whenever he'd call NBA games as a color commentator. His constant criticisms of big men, his berating of players who showed off their personalities (see Wallace, Rasheed) during the game, and the constant references to Jerry Lucas and the Grateful Dead. My feelings weren't anything evil towards him, but there was just an inability to relate to his perspective.
Then I read David Halberstam's book, "The Breaks of the Game" on the 1980 Portland Trail Blazers.
Halberstam spent the entire 1979-80 season with the Trail Blazers and encountered everything from contract negotiations to infighting within the locker room to league expansion and the changing culture of the NBA. Such transparency on how a team operates in this day and age seems impossible, even when there are shows like The Association and Hard Knocks airing on our televisions. Reality shows have to edit and manufacturer situations (thus making it kind of not reality, right?) to fit 30- to 60-minute shows, where in a 400-page book you can intimately understand the inner -orkings of the team.
I'm not going to sit here and tell you what the book is actually about, because then you wouldn't be properly motivated to buy said book. However, here is a list of pertinent tidbits that I found fascinating in the book.
Bill Walton Would've Been Social Media Gold: Here at TSFJ, we probably would've written about Walton as often as Tins writes about LeBron, Kenny writes about his Cowboys, Trible and The Rev write about the Eagles, and I used to write about Donovan McNabb. Earlier, I told you my disdain for Walton as a commentator, but in reality it was he who was the original renegade. From smoking weed regularly, talking crazy about politics, being a wise-ass with teammates and opponents, while many thought of Walton as a radical, most people revered him. We see how popular his parody Twitter account is; imagine if 25 years ago Walton was on Twitter now? Pure gold.
I Now Understand Why Lionel Hollins Is One Helluva Coach: Hollins was a key player on the championship Blazers team, a brilliant guard in his day who had a solid all-around game and was tough as nails defensively. In Portland, he thrived under a structured system managed by the good Dr. Jack Ramsey. Later on, with contract negotiations looming over his head, Hollins was moved to the Philadelphia 76ers. The same 76ers who were defeated by the Blazers. While the Blazers were thought of as playing pure basketball, the Sixers were considered a game of individuals. Eventually, with Hollins playing in the backcourt, he helped provide leadership and structure to a highly talented squad. Thinking about those Sixers teams reminded me of these current Memphis Grizzlies. A squad full of talent and promise, but previously lacking in structure and cohesion. Hollins has found a way to make Memphis the scariest team in the league, and now I understand why he's so capable of leading the charge.
All NBA Players Had To Work Out With Was The Nautilus Machine: This is evidently what all NBA players were working out with back in the late '70s. Fun.
Things Have Changed Drastically, Yet Stayed Very Much The Same: While there are some obvious things that have changed drastically from the late '70s to the present day (i.e., hairstyles, contract sizes, cooler uniforms, more black players, more foreign-born players, etc.), there are some other things that have stayed the same.
Yet some things are very different. Recruiting players in the Continental League (Billy Ray Bates) or at small schools like Illinois Wesleyan (Jack Sikma) who eventually become integral cogs of your team doesn't happen as regularly. Pillaging weak teams who are financially unstable for top draft picks isn't quite as prevalent either. (Evidently, folks traded first-round picks for mid-level players all the time.)
This is an awesome read for both basketball nerds and appreciators of how things were done in yesteryear. The 1977 Portland Trail Blazers team is considered one of the greatest squads assembled of all-time, but the backstory on how the team was put together, and subsequently broken up, is just as intriguing to learn. Now if we can get Bill Walton to just get on Twitter and tell us how it all went down from his perspective.
Eddie Maisonet is the founder and editor emeritus of The Sports Fan Journal. Currently, he serves as an associate editor for ESPN.com. He is an unabashed Russell Westbrook and Barry Switzer apologist, owns over 100 fitteds and snapbacks, and lives by Reggie Jackson’s famous quote, “I am the straw that stirs the drink.”