Is Andrew Bynum the new Bill Walton?

Is Andrew Bynum the new Bill Walton?

March 19, 2013, 5:45 pm
Share This Post

Think the Sixers’ trade for Andrew Bynum is unprecedented? Could it be that a team once made a trade for a big-name NBA superstar only to never see him suit up for two seasons and then dealt him away only to watch him win a championship with another team?

Oh, it’s happened.

Andrew Bynum, meet Bill Walton.

In his first four seasons in the NBA, Walton played just 209 games. Bynum, after his four seasons with the Lakers, played in 213. Both players won an NBA title during their first four seasons and both players had injuries.

Those injuries also would define the careers of both Bynum and Walton.

Walton, the Hall-of-Fame center and a member of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players team, was so brittle that he once suffered an injury while riding a stationary bike. If Walton was able to get hurt pedaling a stationary bike, imagine what type of damage he could have done while bowling.

Injuries were part of the deal with Walton. When he was 12, he injured his knee, which was followed by a broken spine when he was a collegiate superstar at UCLA. From those injuries, Walton claims it led to a poor foundation and caused his chronic foot injuries. It was those injuries to Walton’s feet that may have stopped the Portland Trail Blazers from becoming an NBA dynasty.

After beating the Sixers to win the NBA Finals in 1977, Walton and the Trail Blazers rocketed out to a 50-10 start to the 1977-78 season. Then Walton got hurt and the Blazers won 10 more games, including the two in the playoffs, for the rest of the season.

Just like that, it was over for Walton and the Blazers.

After Walton sat out for the entire 1978-79 season, Portland traded him to the San Diego Clippers in a blockbuster deal in which the Clippers gave up Kermit Washington, Randy Smith, Kevin Kunnert and a first-round draft pick that turned out to be Mike Gminski. Walton didn’t make his debut for the Clippers until January of 1980 and it only lasted 14 games.

Following a game in which Walton scored 10 points against the Lakers on March 11, 1980, the Clippers didn’t see their superstar center on the court again for two years.

Two years!

Walton doesn’t like to talk about his career. Sure, he loves basketball and still works as a broadcaster, but published interviews often explain how Walton changes the subject when talk turns to his game or his injuries.

To hear Sixers head coach Doug Collins -- another player of Walton’s era whose career was cut short by injuries -- explain it, there is a deep sadness in injury. When Collins talked about Bynum’s season-ending injury on Monday, he used words like “sorry,” “sad,” and “prayer.”

Injuries not only hurt a team, but also can destroy a player.

“I’ve talked about this before. As a man who suffered injuries as a young player, it’s devastating,” Collins said. “I can only imagine what’s racing through [Bynum’s] mind right now. I hope we all keep him in prayer. He’s not played for us this year, but he’s still a 76er. I hope he has successful surgery and hopefully his career can bounce back and he can be an effective player.”

If or when Bynum ever returns is going to be interesting.

Could Bynum return to the Sixers? The clatter from the fans makes it sound as if the big man won’t be welcomed, but Bynum’s Sixers teammates sound as if they are still curious about seeing what he can do.

“Many guys have had knee surgeries and things done to them surgically and they've come back even better,” Thad Young said on Monday. “It's all about [Bynum] getting back to the gym, getting back his rhythm and getting into the groove of basketball. Personally, I think having him on the team and having his presence inside is huge. That’s always been a knock on us, that we don't have a true big man. If we can get him back 100 percent healthy, it's going to be scary for a whole lot of teams next year.”

When Walton returned in 1982-83 at the age of 30, he wasn’t the same player he was with Portland. He played 155 games over his final three seasons with the Clippers, averaging 10 points and nine rebounds in 25 minutes per game in his last year. The Clippers struggled, too, winning 25, 30 and 31 games under coaches Paul Silas, Jim Lynam and Don Chaney during that span and even packed up and moved from San Diego, where they routinely ranked at the bottom in attendance, to Los Angeles.

After one season in Los Angeles and just before training camp of the 1985-86 season was set to begin, the Clippers shipped Walton to Boston for Cedric Maxwell and a first-round pick that became Arvydas Sabonis.

This deal wasn’t the blockbuster like the one the Clippers and Blazers put together for Walton, but it was a big deal simply because it involved the oft-injured center and the Celtics. Better yet, it was a perfect marriage between the Celtics and Walton for one season because Walton could happily back up Robert Parish for 19 minutes per game. The fans in Boston weren’t packing the Garden to see Walton. So with the pressure to carry a franchise off his back, Walton played a career-high 80 games, earned the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award and the Celtics won their 16th NBA title.

The injuries returned the next season, though. Walton played 10 games in the 1986-87 season as the Celtics limped to the NBA Finals again. When it was over, Walton called it a career, though he wasn’t finished with injuries.

Surgery was a constant for Walton even when his playing days were long over. A crippling back ailment became so bad that Walton said he contemplated suicide because of the pain.

However, six years ago Walton told CSNNewEngland that new back procedure has left him pain free.

Bynum, who is just 25, has a lot of life left to live. Maybe he has a lot of basketball left to play, too. In the meantime, Bynum has support from his teammates and can turn to a Hall of Famer like Walton for the cautionary tale.

“I feel like everybody’s been worried about Andrew the whole season,” Sixers All-Star Jrue Holiday said. “It’s like, all right, let my man breathe. I guess right now he’s going through a tough time. I’m just praying for him and hoping everything’s OK.”

More Team Talk