Bill Walton, whose NBA Hall of Fame career was derailed by a series of back and foot injuries, once contemplated suicide because of the pain he suffered from his back problems.
“When I was lying on that floor—and I had nothing—I was going to kill myself if I had a gun,” Walton said in an interview with Sports Illustrated's Maggie Gray.
Walton, who did the interview as part of the publicity tour for his book, Back from the Dead, has undergone 38 operations in his life. Most of them were on his feet and back, balky body parts that derailed a player who could have been the greatest center in NBA history.
Walton, the No. 1 pick in the 1974 draft, never played a full 82-game season. He missed fewer than 15 games just once, in 1985-86 as a 33-year-old backup for the Boston Celtics. Foot injuries cost him three full seasons and parts of many more, making him one of the league's greatest "what if?" cases.
He was an ahead-of-his-time center, gifted with athleticism, a transcendent passing ability and two-way skills. Despite playing only 468 games over 13 years in the NBA, Walton did enough to make the Hall of Fame.
However, the work required to get back onto the court took its toll. In a 2014 profile by Shaun Powell of Sports on Earth, Walton spoke of the debilitating back condition that had him contemplating suicide. He was rendered nearly immobile for three years, which put his broadcasting career on hold and sent him into a deep depression.
"I thought I was going to die," Walton told Powell. "And if I wasn't going to die naturally, I didn't think I wanted to live anymore, not in that condition. My life was over. It was that bad."
Walton now describes himself as "pain-free" and has resumed broadcasting games for ESPN. While he works a limited schedule, he remains upbeat about the situation and is thankful for the doctors who got him back on his feet, as he told Powell in 2014:
A miracle. I have the chance to do something with my life again, and the rest is up to me. I can put my energies to projects I'm working on, a book that's almost complete and my broadcasting duties (Walton does Pac-12 games for ESPN). I'm fully aware of how many people sacrificed for me to have this chance, and so I have a duty and obligation to do something.
Walton's full interview with Sports Illustrated will debut Monday. Given the openness about his lowest of lows, it's good to see Walton bringing joy from the broadcast booth again.
Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter.