Not too long ago, we marveled at the fact that only four guys had ever blocked Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s skyhook: Wilt Chamberlain did it twice in one game, Ralph Sampson got it once, Artis Gilmore did it but was called for goaltending and Bill Willoughby did it too, which was remarkable since he was only 6-8.
Turns out we missed one: Bill Walton.
In a sense, he sort of cheated as the other guys got it when Kareem was in front of them.
Walton, famously unorthodox in so many ways though not usually when it came to basketball, got the skyhook from behind.
But on the other hand, it was an incredibly alert play. Like Kareem, the skyhook was regal and distant. Blocking it when he released it was nearly impossible. Wilt could do it even as an older player because he was a freak athlete. Willoughby had a 47” vertical and as a young player, Gilmore was terrific too.
Walton was not in that class athletically but he was perhaps the most fundamentally sound big man ever and when you see him babble on ESPN about The Grateful Dead or mushrooms and PTSD or the importance of organic fiber in your diet - whatever cul de sac his mind briefly wanders into, in short - it’s easy to not understand that the man was ferociously competitive. Michael Jordan and Bill Russell were in his class but very few other people have been.
Keep in mind this was when he was with the Celtics at the table end of his career and widely thought to be washed up.