The spontaneous and fast paced world of sports broadcasting may seem like an unorthodox career choice for a man with a severe stutter, but that is exactly where Bill Walton learned to overcome his speech disorder. Bill Walton attributes basketball with first giving him the opportunity to cope with his stuttering while playing the game and later the opportunity to conquer his stuttering while calling games. In fact, despite being named one of basketball's 50 all time best players Walton actually considers overcoming his stutter to be his greatest accomplishment. In his own words: "the ability to learn how to talk is easily the greatest thing I’ve ever done. Winning two NCAA championships and two NBA titles was nice, but I knew it was going to happen. But learning how to speak has given me a whole new life."
Bill Walton was born in San Diego, California on November 5th 1952. He began playing basketball in the fourth grade through his elementary school. He continued to play in high school, where his team won the California Interscholastic Federation High School title in two consecutive years. Of his childhood years Walton has commented "I stuttered horrendously, couldn't speak at all. I was a very shy reserved player and a very shy reserved person. I found a safe place in life in basketball." Basketball continued to be his safe haven in college when Walton enrolled at UCLA in 1970. He was a scholar-athlete, playing a year on the freshman team in 1971 before playing center on the varsity team from 1972 to 1974. Walton excelled on the court earning three NCAA Player of the Year awards in 1972, 1973 and 1974 among many other accolades including the Sullivan award for the United States Best Amateur Athlete of 1973. But despite his great success on the court, Walton was still tormented by his stuttering. Walton recalls that "during college, the teasing was tough...I had a speech class one year, and they laughed me out of the class."
After graduating with honors and a B.A. in history, Walton began his professional career in basketball when he was the number one overall pick in the 1974 NBA draft by the Portland Trailblazers. He played with the Trailblazers from 1974 to 1979, with the San Diego clippers from 1979 to 1984, then with the Los Angeles Clippers after the team relocated in 1985 and finally with the Boston Celtics from 1985 to 1988. The success Walton had achieved playing in college continued in his professional basketball career. His numerous accomplishments include an NBA Playoffs MVP award in 1977, an NBA MVP award in 1978, and the NBA Sixth Man Award in 1986. Walton is also one of only four NBA players in history to lead in blocked shots and rebounding within the same season. Basketball continued to be Walton’s sanctuary from his stuttering and provided him an unusual outlet. He recalls that he never had trouble with his stutter while yelling at referees: “I never had any trouble yelling at refs. In the heat of the game...when it was just totally spontaneous, I could get in there and really scream and yell at the refs. But it was only in basketball, and it was only at the refs.”
Walton retired from professional playing at the age of 34 but he still sought to make basketball his career by working in sports broadcasting. Walton credits his friend and fellow broadcaster, Marty Glickman, with giving him the advice he used to work past his stuttering. “He gave me some very basic tips, and I applied those tips to the learning techniques I learned from my coach at UCLA John Wooden about how to develop as a basketball player. I thought about fundamentals and how to start with the basics like the ability to mechanically duplicate moves on the basketball court. And I just applied that to speaking.” Walton began his broadcasting career in 1990 on the Prime Ticket Network before moving on to CBS Sports and NBC in the early 1990's where his work included covering the 1996 and 2000 Summer Olympic Games. Walton has since worked with ABC, CBS, Fox, KCAL, MSNBC, Turner Sports and the NBA. Walton's broadcasting work earned him several Emmy nominations before he was awarded the Emmy for best live sports television broadcast in 2001. Beyond his broadcasting career, Walton also developed into a media personality with numerous television and movie appearances. His film appearances include Celtic Pride, Forget Paris, Ghost Busters, He’s Got Game and Little Nicky while his television appearances include The Jeff Foxworthy Show, The Sentinel and Pacific Blue.
Despite Bill Walton’s many accomplishments and all the success he has achieved both on the court and in broadcasting, he is still challenged by his stutter. Walton describes his stutter as “something that I have to deal with and work on every day. If I don’t work on it, I’m not going to be able to do my job. It’s always a challenge.” Despite the challenges his stutter has presented, especially given his career, Walton has come to grips with his speech disorder. In his own words, “I used to be really embarrassed about stuttering. But now I realize that it’s something that is a part of me.”