Saturday, August 25, 2007

Bill Walton Is My Homeboy

When I was in college, I made a list. It consisted of famous people I pledged to punch if I ever saw them in person. Three people occupied that list:

Jim Gray.

Joan and Melissa Rivers (they counted as one person to me.)

And Bill Walton.

Back then, I thought Jim Gray was a dick for the leading, invasive and look-at-me-get-the-scoop-live-on-tv style in which he prodded athletes and detracted from the game I was trying to watch by pursuing gossipy story angles. I still think he does that. And I'd still take a lot of pleasure from knocking him the eff out. But enough people have boarded the bandwagon of Jim Gray hate, that I see no need to maintain my own personal vendetta.

Speaking of gossip...I truly loathed the way that the Riverses scratched out a place in our cultural iconography by gagging and cackling about other celebrities' fashion choices. For me, they redefined obnoxious. And sadly, they helped create a new strain of "journalism." For that fantastic contribution, I think there is a special ring of Hell reserved for them. I have faith in that fate and I no longer care to bitch-slap either of them. Besides, I'd be deep in a very long line of people eager to do that.

Then, there was Bill Walton.

Walton, from his perch in the NBC Studio back when the Peacock still broadcast NBA games, dared to challenge the greatness of Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson. The Fab Five.

Nevermind that Bill Walton's college career ranks as one of the greatest in all of sports. He called my guys "underachievers." And he did so with with the unapologetic zeal of Orenthal Adolf Bush. He was evil. Plain and simple. And he deserved to have his two front teeth removed by my right fist.

That was then.

After I moved to LA, I watched a lot of Clipper games. From Lamar Odom's rookie year on. And with the steady voice of Ralph Lawler to accompany him, I learned to appreciate Bill Walton's uniquely histrionic and hyperbolic brand of sports broadcasting music. He has become one of my favorite voices to hear call a game.

Bill Walton, you might say, became my homeboy.

I've talked to a lot of people about Team USA during the past week and the word I hear most often is "boring." As in: the Tournament of the Americas games are so lopsided that they're fundamentally un-entertaining.

But wait, I ask them, have you been paying attention to Bill Walton? Over four games in five days, Walton has:

* Provided his own personal wikis for Venezuela, the Virgin Islands, Canada and Brazil.

* Cracked jokes about Hugo Chavez.

* Traveled into the mind of Tim Duncan.

* Pleaded with the U.S. Government to sign the Treaty of the Sea.

* Shamelessly plugged Festival Express.

* Delivered an oral biography of Oscar Schmidt.

* And, most importantly, he resisted the urge to strangle Mark Jones.

That last one, BTW, is no small feat.

(Side note: Is everyone cool with using the phrase "markjonesing" like a bastard version of "uncletomming" to describe a person of color trying way too hard to act "Black"? We are? Good. Let's get back to Walton.)

Even if you have found the last 34 minutes of each of the Pool games to be patently uninteresting, you'd be a fool to have turned the games off before the ends of the first quarters. 'Cause you never know what Bill Walton is gonna say next.

Ten years ago, I would have said, yeah, that's true, the blasphemy and ignorance is never ending from that guy and we need to cut out his tongue or at least install a giant off switch in his left cheek.

Today, I think the games are better for having his proud hippie patois to underscore them. Bill Walton is my homeboy. Now I just need to find a t-shirt emblazoned with his iconoclastic set of jowels.

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