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The Walton Brothers

Through the years, Bill Walton has distinguished himself on the hardwood and the airwaves. In the process, he has become a national icon with his worldviews and hippy-ish style. America knows and loves him. But few remember his brother, Bruce. While he never was much of a player in the NFL, he and Bill became one of the few brothers to play in the NBA Finals and the Super Bowl. This is their story.

Early Years

In the 1950s, a family resided and grew on a hillside home just below Lake Murray in La Mesa, California. Bruce, the oldest, arrived into this world in 1951 and his brother Bill was born a year later. Though their parents were never sports-oriented, Bill followed his brother's lead into the world of athletics. They found instant gratification in sports.

By the time Bruce reached Helix High School, he was a confident athlete on the gridiron, starring on the offensive line and on the hardwood for the Scotties. He was proficient enough in basketball that he was even scouted by the University of Idaho. However, his football coaches convinced him to stick with football, seeing a brighter future for him in that sport. So he pursued football further until he earned a scholarship to UCLA.

While Bruce was traveling the recruiting trail, his brother Bill was quickly rising in basketball. In both his junior and senior years, he led Helix High School to unbeaten seasons, becoming one of the most hyped recruits in California history. Just up I-5, John Wooden noticed his play. It didn't matter that there was a higher-ranked prospect all the way in Pennsylvania, he wanted the local kid with the speech impediment and unusual worldview.

The Bruins

In the long, distinguished history of college football, the UCLA Bruins have been on the low end, often serving as the little brother of storied USC. Basketball, on the other hand, was a completely different story. When Bruce Walton stepped on the Westwood campus in the Fall of 1969, the Bruins had recently won their third straight national title.

Meanwhile, he was entering a program that had finished the 1968 season a lowly 3-7. Bruce's freshman year of 1969 was a resurgent period for the Bruins as they went 8-1-1 that year.

After proving himself on the freshman team, Bruce went up to varsity in 1970 and soon was starting on the offensive line. At the same time, Bill enrolled and began his collegiate basketball journey by starring on UCLA's freshman team, all the while watching the Bruins win their fifth straight national championship. He hungered for the opportunity to prove himself under Wooden's guidance.

John Wooden wanted something similar. Just before Bill Walton's varsity debut, Wooden suggested that Bruce walk-on the basketball team. However, both sports are grueling in nature and often suck up all the free time a college athlete has. Bruce knew that he couldn't do both at such a high level and stuck with football, helping the Bruins stumble to a 2-7-1 finish in 1971.

Meanwhile, Bill helped his team to an undefeated season and their sixth straight national championship. In the process, he earned consensus All-American honors and was the College Player of the Year.

Bruce's senior year was one to remember. After struggling in his first year at the helm, the Bruins had started to gel in Pepper Rodgers' system by 1972. They began the year in style by defeating top-ranked Nebraska by a field goal. From then on, they had a winning mentality, never feeling like they were out of a game. After losing to Michigan 26-9, the Bruins rallied to win the next six games. But despite the streak of good fortune, they couldn't surpass the mighty USC Trojans who were enjoying one of their greatest seasons. UCLA stumbled in their last two games of the season, including a 24-7 spanking at the hands of the Trojans to end their once-magical season. They finished the year second in the Pac-8 behind USC.

Later that year, Bill led the Bruins to another undefeated season and their seventh straight national championship with the accolades once again raining over his head. his senior year started with much promise as the team stretched its winning streak to 87 games. Alas, it would stretch no further than South Bend, Indiana. On a cold, mid-January night, the Fighting Irish stunned the Bruins by a single point.

Even though the Bruins would bounce back to finish the regular season with another conference title, something was off. It all came to a head in Greensboro, North Carolina. The Bruins were upset by North Carolina State in the Final Four, losing 80-77 in double overtime. Just like that, Bill Walton's legendary college career came to a deflating end.

He left Westwood with a degree in history, three first-team All-American honors, three Academic All-American honors, three College Player of the Year awards and two national championships. Bill would carry with him the burden of "what could have been" for the rest of his life. But despite the disappointment, the future looked bright for both him and Bruce.

The Pros

With a political science degree in hand, Bruce Walton was drafted in the fifth round of the 1973 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys. They were a talented squad across the board and were stacked on the offensive line. He never started a game as a rookie but was a more than capable body if so needed, serving as a backup at every position while also playing on special teams. But despite their talent, the Cowboys failed to reach the Super Bowl in his first two years, losing to the Vikings in the 1973 NFC Championship Game and missing the playoffs entirely in 1974.

Embarrassed by their performance the previous year, the Cowboys were determined to return to the Super Bowl in 1975. Though it took a prayer (a Hail Mary, to be specific) to make it happen, the Cowboys did indeed return to the Super Bowl where they lost to the Steelers and their powerful defensive line, the Steel Curtain. After losing that game and dealing with a knee injury acquired earlier in the year, Bruce retired from the game of football. Just in time to watch his brother take the NBA by storm.

Bill's transition to the pros was vastly different than his brother's. He was drafted first overall in 1974 by the Portland Trail Blazers and was immediately thrust into the starter's role. However, almost as soon as he became a pro that his body started to fail him. Eventually, it was discovered that his feet were dealing with undiagnosed stress fractures, but this was years later. When it was discovered, the damage had already been done.

Despite his health issues, he still managed to earn All-Star nods in 1977 and 1978. To top those accolades, he also led the Trail Blazers to NBA Finals glory in 1977 and earned league MVP honors the following year. Those glory years were glorious and even though they were just two years, they somehow felt like a lifetime. After 1978, his body really started to fail him and his relationship with Trail Blazers' management began to fall apart. By 1979, he was back in his hometown, playing for the lowly Clippers.

In those days, the Clippers were always a dysfunctional organization and Bill's constant absences didn't help matters. By his final year with the organization in 1985, his body started to act properly and he found a way to play in 67 games. Even though his passion for the game waned, Bill knew that he still had more to give the game that he loved and he yearned for one last chance at winning another championship.

The Boston Celtics called that offseason, offering him a lifeline out of the Clippers' dysfunction. They may not have known it at the time, but even though he wasn't the same dominant player he had once been, Bill Walton was exactly what the Celtics needed to hoist yet another banner up to their rafters.

While often overlooked, a good Sixth Man can make or break a championship contender. From his perch on the bench, not only did he provide 6.8 rebounds and 7.6 points per game, Bill Walton provided the voice that the locker room needed as they tore through their schedule and defended the Boston Garden almost to perfection, finishing their home record 40-1.

Incredibly, they kept that historic home record intact throughout the playoffs, only losing thrice on opposing courts. the Rockets gave the Celtics all that they could handle in the NBA Finals, but in the end, the Celtics proved to be too great for any opponent that year, winning in six games. It was a redemptive season for all involved in the Celtics organization and Bill Walton was no exception, earning NBA Sixth Man of the Year honors. It would be the last breath of greatness in his choppy but illustrious career.

The Celtics lost to the Lakers in the Finals the following year and Walton's long-suffering foot became too much to handle the summer after. It got to the point where he had to crawl from place to place. Even though he didn't play at all in 1987-1988, he didn't officially retire until after the season. But despite the sorry turn of his playing career, his next career would prove to be almost as rewarding.

The Broadcasters

Bruce's transition into retirement was seamless s he quickly became successful in radio broadcasting. He even pioneered the "lights out" smooth jazz format which instantly became a hit. Unknown to many at the time, Bruce would entertain many with his selection of instrumental melodies. Bill's transition into retirement wasn't as smooth. He'd struggled with a horrible speech impediment for much of his life and television work seemed like the complete opposite of what he should have striven for. However, late in his playing career, he was approached by famed broadcaster Marty Glickman who regaled him with his own journey. He too had had a speech impediment, but after a lot of hard work and some instruction, he learned to conquer it on a daily basis.

Under Glickman's guidance, Bill was able to overcome his stuttering and soon became a successful broadcaster. And so the Walton brothers dominated the airwaves, fascinating listeners and viewers with their knowledge of culture, music and sports. Their lives had come full circle since their days growing up in La Mesa where their parents taught them to live full lives and to always search for knowledge and truth about the world they lived in. When Bruce died on October 18, 2019, it was as if the patriarch of the Walton clan had perished. For though he wasn't the most famous sibling, he held the family values to a standard that all could look up to. conquer

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