Arizona’s recent men’s basketball game against Colorado turned into a one-sided affair when the nation’s top-ranked team took full advantage of its opponent playing without star point guard Spencer Dinwiddie.
Normally, you could hear TV channels clicking all over the country, leaving this ho-hum game with the outcome no longer in doubt for a better alternative, perhaps “Person of Interest.”
Except that Bill Walton was just warming up.
“I’ve been to the edge of the biosphere,” proclaimed Walton, the former UCLA and NBA great who occasionally provides color commentary for Pac-12 Conference telecasts on ESPN.
As only Walton can do, he was making a connection between Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell and snowboarder T.J. Schneider. To make that connection – at least in Bill Walton’s world – you must, presumably, visit the edge of the biosphere.
You learn to expect the unexpected from Walton’s mouth. It is what has made him one of TV’s great entertainers. When he is calling a game, it is must-hear TV.
Pick any game and listen to what Walton has to say. Sometimes he even talks about basketball.
“The NCAA needs to modernize the rules,” Walton said during a game a season ago. “We reward guys for just falling down. Please. Make them play basketball.”
More often than not, Walton talks personalities, music, or life in general. And, more often than not, he rounds it all into pointed – sometimes biting – commentaries on the game and the world. He pulls it off with a grand mix of bombast and hyperbole.
Upon lamenting that the final minutes of college basketball games “last an eternity,” Walton added during the Arizona-Colorado game: “When the doctor tells me I’ve got one minute to live, I want to spend it at a college basketball game.”
Jerry Seinfeld has nothing on Walton. You can go to his website (billwalton.com, the one with a painting of him as a member of the Grateful Dead Hall of Honor) and find his most colorful comments, both as an announcer of NBA games and college games.
“But you have to understand, my beard is so nasty. I mean, it’s the only beard in the history of Western Civilization that makes Bob Dylan’s look good.”
“Come on, that was no foul! It may be a violation of all basic rules of human decency, but it’s not a foul.”
“Mick Jagger is in better shape than far too many NBA players. It’s up in the air whether the same can be said of Keith Richards.”
On the website, you can vote for your favorite Walton comment. Mine goes to: “Being with (the late Los Angeles Lakers announcer) Chick Hearn was like walking through Yosemite with John Muir, coming down the Grand Canyon with John Wesley Powell, standing at Gettysburg with Abraham Lincoln.”
Or, you can tune into any game and listen in awe.
During a Washington game at Arizona a season ago, Walton said: “The valley here in Tucson has 150 companies focusing on optics. Some of these referees need to go and visit these optics.”
Later in the game, he commented on the race to win the Pac-12 championship: “Cal and Colorado are the two hot teams, driving that quasar all the way into the tournament.”
Then there was the recent Arizona-Colorado game, which Walton described early on as having “dynamic vibrancy.” Later, he reminded listeners that he was surrounded by outstanding players in winning two NCAA championships at UCLA and a pair of NBA titles. “I also played with some guys who ruined the sport,” he dead-panned.
During a recent Arizona-UCLA game, when the play-by-play announcer – who often plays the role of straight man to Walton’s comedy act – used the classic old “Oh, my!” call during play, and Walton responded: “Speaking of ’Oh, my!’ one of the greats was Dick Enberg, who called UCLA games. It is Dick Enberg’s birthday today. Happy birthday, Dick. It also is Joan Baez’ birthday. Happy birthday, Joan.”
When a crowd shot for TV spotted Luke Walton, Bill’s son and a former Arizona player, the elder Walton did not blink in saying: “Sit up, straight. Posture.”
At some point during Wednesday night’s Arizona game at Stanford, Walton referenced Rodin sculptures, Grateful Dead founding member Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, retired Texas football coach Mack Brown, the late musician Pete Seeger, and former Indiana basketball player Junior Bridgeman, who “owns more Wendy’s than anyone in the country.”
Finally, when that Arizona-Colorado game ended and the announcers were closing the show, Walton provided the perfect sendoff while knowing he was supposed to plug the upcoming “Keith Olbermann Show” on ESPN2.
“What a team (Arizona)! What a game!” he screamed. “I’m going to sleep in the desert tonight. Hello, Keith Olbermann! That guy throws it down!”
So, too, does Bill Walton.