Yesterday was a tough one on the sports front. Two eras ended on the same day.

In Paris, Rafael Nadal of Spain was eliminated in straight sets in the first round of the French Open tennis tournament known as Roland Garros. In a stroke of amazingly bad fortune, Nadal, who has been hampered by injuries to his now-middle-aged body, drew as his opponent Sasha Zverev of Germany, a young man who's currently back at the top of the game after dealing with injuries of his own. As an unseeded player because he hasn't really played much the last couple of years, Rafa had to accept the luck of the draw.

One of the all-time greats of the sport, Nadal had won the French 14 times. So successful was he on the red clay courts of Paris that a large bronze likeness of him is on display at the venue. But yesterday it was one frustration after another, as he just could not get to Zverev's bazooka shots in time to work the magic of old. The second set ended in a tiebreaker, but it did not go the Spaniard's way.

It was a historic moment, to be sure. The other tennis stars knew it; everyone did. Carlos Alcaraz, Nadal's countryman and possible heir to the throne, changed his practice schedule so that he could watch from the stands. Novak Djokovic was in the audience. Iga Swiatek, too.

Afterward, Rafa told the adoring crowd that it's unlikely that he'll play the French again, although there's still a small percentage chance that he might. Given all his recent ailments, it seems unlikely. He'll be 38 years old next Monday.

A few hours later, I looked down at my phone and saw that Bill Walton had died at age 71. An amazing center with an astronomical basketball IQ and a free-spirited hippy personality that stayed with him all his life, Walton was probably the greatest Portland Trail Blazer of all time. He led the team to its only league championship, was the league most valuable player the next year, and went on to become Sixth Man of the Year on a world champ Boston Celtics squad nearly a decade later. He achieved all this despite bad feet that hampered him most of his career.

When he retired from playing the game, Walton became a broadcaster, which was quite an achievement given his struggles early in life with a speech impediment. He spent many years as a color commentator for Pac-12 college basketball. His commentary was often as stoned as that of an average attendee at a Grateful Dead concert, of which he attended more than a thousand, but some of us found it entertaining, and even thought-provoking at times. I'm sure he was devastated when the conference fell apart, a victim of strange times indeed.

I didn't have a lot in common with Walton, but somehow I could relate to him. Shortly after his playing career ended, I heard that he wound up in the first-year class at Stanford Law School. I could picture pretty well what that would have been like. If indeed it happened, it didn't last. And toward the end of his life, old Walton was on the internet a fair amount complaining bitterly about the mismanagement of the street camping in his beloved hometown of San Diego. Sounds familiar.

Best wishes to the great Rafa, whatever he does next. And may wild Bill's larger-than-life spirit remain a force in the universe forever.

UPDATE, 12:40 p.m.: An alert reader reminds me of some of the details of Walton's time at Stanford Law. It was in the middle of his playing career, after his time with the Blazers but before he wound up on the Celtics. He was sidelined at the time by his foot problems. Apparently he made it through first year of law school, and halfway through his second year, before he was well enough to play again. He left the law for the hardcourt and never went back, An account of this period can be found here.


  1. Living through the championship season is like a dream to me now. The town was different, the people were definitely different, and there was a real community feel to the whole thing. Both Schonely and Walton have left the building recently, and there is no one to replace them to unite the town as far as I can tell. Thanks Bill for the wonderful memories.

  2. I moved to Portland in August of 1977, so missed the championship. I did live in NW, though, and would see Bill on his bike. And, did you know - Bill had a brother, Bruce, who played in the NFL, though was mostly a back-up, limited by injuries to a short career. He did play on a Super Bowl-winning team, and he and Bill are the only brothers to win NBA and NFL championships. Bruce passed away a few years ago.

  3. Big Red is my favorite Blazer and I was lucky to be there from day one. Not only a great fantastic player, but a great guy. I lived in NW Portland at the time and hippie boy me gave Bill a big thumbs up as he was relaxing on his porch the day he won the title. Good times. Keep on truck'n brother.

  4. I don’t know anyone more like Walton, than you.

  5. The David Halberstam book “Breaks of the Game” contains an excellent in-depth account of the Blazers championship season and the ultimate decline of the franchise during the latter Jack Ramsay era.

    The team would not contend again until the late ‘80s. By that time, the Blazers had a new owner, new coach, new roster — led by Clyde Drexler — and new management.

    1. We watched in awe the Blazers of '90 and '92. They almost went all the way, but couldn't get past the Bad Boys of Detroit and then Air Jordan. It's too bad that Sabonis Sr. was stuck behind the Iron Curtain.

  6. One of the ways Walton made others happy was his youthful views of the world. I usually enjoyed his comments. In the late 70’s he had some friends that made law enforcement people nervous

  7. A wonderful line from columnist Dave Boling in the Spokane Spokesman-Review about Walton's announcing style: "His own exuberant commentary, hyperbole and non-sequiturs polarized some basketball broadcast viewers. What critics forgot was that you can’t take poets or philosophers literally."


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