Stay with me for a second here.
For a long time, I was in the camp of the Bill Walton haters. I seethed every time I heard him laud praise upon Kazaam or fall at the feet of Kobe Bryant...I mean, Mamba. I chose to watch games on mute rather than hear his man-love for Coach Wooden seep into whichever game he was talking over. The incessant stammering coupled with the goofy, Deadhead persona made him unbearable. It seemed even his play-by-play partners were beside themselves at his stupidity.
But something happened along the way that caused me to reconsider my disdain for Big Red; I actually turned the volume up and listened to one of his games. And in doing so, I realized quickly that the joke was on me, that my naivete and/or blind-hate had kept me from appreciating Walton for what he is: a willing punchline. His hyperbole, his non-sequitors, his uncomfortable hetero-crushes--Walton is just playing along, throwing humorous tidbits against the wall to see which ones stick. Why else would someone say the following:
"You look at Vladimir Radmanovic, this guy is cut from stone. As if Michelangelo was reading and a lightning bolt flashed before him."
Now that is hilarious; even Radmanovic's grandmother--the purveyor of his far from Michelangelo-esque genetic stock--probably found that one funny. Walton has created for himself an on-screen persona to entertain the captive masses while they're taking in a game, and he's taking on countless converts like me by the day. How does he do it? How does hate become love? Well, so far as I can tell, Walton has five distinct weapons at his disposal.
1. Hyperbole (praise)
Check out this nugget, and remember as you read that he actually took up broadcast time to lay this down:
On Kobe's offseason weight training: "The added muscle and bulk from pushing that steel and the natural maturation process now enables this grandmaster to regularly accomplish the unimaginable without dragging around excessive bulk and baggage. Most top players get to the point where they truly believe that anything is possible. Most are also governed by gravity, the laws of physics and self-regulating mental control mechanisms. Kobe has left all these behind. The extra strength and stamina have made him a superior 3-point shooter, a most dominant defender and arguably the game's top rebounder."
Hilarious, right? But there's an added dimension here other than mere hype. First, Walton is clearly mocking the industry that affords him his living, taking the common, casual Kobe-praise and elevating it to a level that makes you shake your head and laugh. We're used to hearing NBA-heads slobber over Kobe, but Walton gets his point across in words that actually register a reaction, all while essentially making the same point.
Also, note that this is not hyperbole for the non-NBA fan, who would probably miss the humor in calling Kobe "arguably the game's top rebounder." You'd need some NBA knowledge to tease the exaggeration out of that one.
2. Hyperbole (condemnation)
Just as Bill has the ability to take pontification on the game's greats to unmatched highs, he can also take condemning to equal depths. Apparently, Bill was not a Grandmama fan:
On Larry Johnson's lackluster performance in the NBA Finals: "What a pathetic performance by this sad human being. This is a disgrace to the game of basketball and to the NBA. He played like a disgrace tonight. And he deserved it."
"Why would the Pacers ever double-team Larry Johnson? He wants to be double-teamed so he can pass. Why is Indiana double-teaming a man who only scores 8 points a game?"
Ouch. Now Larry Johnson was never known as one of the game's greats, especially not during his Knick days. But lest you think that Bill only lashes out at pedestrian players, check out this recent dig at Tony Parker--Mr. Pizzizzle himself:
(After Parker has a pass deflected out of bounds by the defender.) "Tony Parker just made the worst pass... in the history of Western Civilization!"
Or this humorous dagger thrown as Bill Simmons' beloved Celts:
"Memo to Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker: Couldn't you wait until at least the All-Star break to have the franchise suffer its worst loss in its storied history? Bill Russell just called looking for an address to send his 11 championship rings back to the Celtics because he is so disappointed."
Walton's exaggerations are a thing of beauty, really. And it has gone unappreciated--even hated--for far too long.
3. Blatant Snobbery
Perhaps there is a valid argument from the Big Red-haters when it comes to pretentiousness. Walton does seem to love the sound of his own voice and you rarely go a game without hearing about his UCLA days. But even when he's loving himself or Coach Wooden, there is an undeniable element of humor in Walton's words. Witness the following exchange between Walton and his former NBC broadcast partner, Tom Hammond:
Walton: "John Stockton is one of the true marvels, not just of basketball, or in America, but in the history of Western Civilization!"
Tom: "Wow, that’s a pretty strong statement. I guess I don’t have a good handle on world history."
Walton: "Well Tom, that’s because you didn’t go to UCLA."
Out-and-out arrogance. What's not to love about that? Being a Michigan grad, I can certainly relate. We Wolverines have made self-love into an art form.
4. The one-liner
Every name broadcaster has one (I'll vomit if I hear "dipsy-doo-dunkaroo" one more time), but none have been as appreciated or as imitated as:
"Throw it down, Big Fella!"
Seriously, think about it. That quote rivals "I'm Rick James, bitch" for overuse during the years 2003-2005.
Walton doesn't just toe the line of bland professionalism--it's as if he never knew a line to begin with. He isn't afraid to issue biting comments to bring to the light the ridiculousness of the situation. How many of us make similar comments as the following when checking the TV schedule, (or, in Walton's case, when forced to watch every minute of a Portland-Seattle game):
"Its a critical game, the battle for 10th place!"
That one's a finger in the eye his employer, the Worldwide Leader, especially considering that they are the ones airing the game nationally. And yet, Walton trucks on.
See, so much of the NBA today has become pre-packaged promotion geared towards selling alternate jerseys and thunder stix. Last night's sickening display of Dwayne Wade-pimping by ESPN was nothing new. The NBA and ESPN consistently take the biggest name brand player from a given game and push him to the forefront of highlights, regardless of his performance during said broadcast.
The absurdity, the blatant shamelessness of it all would go unchecked if it weren't for the crusading prowess of a single battle-scarred Deadhead rising above a sea of corporate sponsorships. He's a man sensitive enough to notice the little things--like Wade's vuluptuous "rack upstairs" (Some homoeroticism with your 64 oz. Pepsi, Mr. Stern?). But he's confident enough in his abilities to beat ass that he'll challenge the likes of Grandmama, the Truth, or Tony Pizzle with his stinging wit. Ultimately, if the kids picking bits of asphalt from their knees today up their game to avoid Big Red's wrath tomorrow--or if the same kids spend a bit of practice time on the two-handed chest pass to elicit some future other-worldly praise of their fundamentals from Big Red--well, then the world becomes a better place for us all. Thus I can say, without hesitation, that Bill Walton is not just great for the game of basketball, nor just for the American way of life. With the global impact of the Game and its reach to each continent, Bill Walton may someday be responsible for saving our world from itself. He could be the greatest being...of all time. So "Throw it down, big fella!"
Fire Bill Walton [Please Fire Bill Walton]
List of Bill Walton's quotes [The Great Bill Walton]
Bill Walton Quotes: Exaggerations... Exclamations... Excellence [Gorilla Mask]
Bill Walton's official website