Bill Walton is one of the great flakes in sports history. He didn’t really let his freak flag fly until he got into broadcasting and people began to realize that literally anything could come out of his mouth.
Larry Bird was not a flake. He was relentlessly focused on basketball and nothing but.
When Red Auerbach signed him to the Celtics in 1985, it was widely seen as foolish. Walton had a maddening history of injuries that really derailed his career. He later said that he bombed Boston’s physical but Auerbach asked him: Walton, can you play or not?
Walton said yes, and the deal was consummated.
He only stayed healthy for one season, but pairing Walton, off the bench, with Larry Bird, made for some insanely great basketball.
Walton was probably the most fundamentally sound big man of all time and Bird was, well, Bird.
When they were on the court together, fans got the rare treat of seeing two of the highest IQ players in the history of basketball and, importantly, two of the finest passers in the history of the game.
It only lasted one year - Walton made it for 80 games but, as always, his body betrayed him. Not long after, Bird’s decline began as his back started a journey to hell that ended his career a few years later with him unable to even sit on the bench. He still played, but when he came out of the game, he had to spend time flat on the floor, and he had to have his back essentially put back into place on a regular basis. It must have been agonizing.
That one year thought was ethereal. Auerbach had a knack for finding veterans who could squeeze a little more out of their bodies and Walton’s last season, magnified by Bird’s greatness, was a gift to the game that still resounds.