Rob Gronkowski’s departure from the New England Patriots offered a reminder: There sure have been some fascinating athletes to come through this region.
As such, NESN.com is taking local fans on a lighthearted trip down memory lane by highlighting 10 “charismatic characters” in Boston sports history. You know, those enthralling players with big personalities who captivated audiences for reasons beyond their on-field performance.
Bill Walton spent just two seasons with the Boston Celtics, but the time he was in New England sure was memorable.
Walton came to Boston with a history of injuries. He desperately wanted a second chance to be part of something that was positive, which meant leaving the Los Angeles Clippers. Having grown up in California, he wanted to go to the Los Angeles Lakers.
But when the Lakers wanted nothing to do with his injuries, Walton called the Celtics. Red Auerbach, who had Larry Bird in the office at the time, asked his take. The rest was history.
Once he joined Celtics, Walton embraced his bench role. He went on to win the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award following the 1985-86 season.
As he said in “The ’86 Celtics” documentary, “Red, Larry, the Celtics, the people in New England, they didn’t give me my career back. They gave me my life back.”
With that came the quirks Walton embraced — including the Grateful Dead. Walton, a proud “Deadhead,” loved the band so much he befriended the musicians. He plastered Grateful Dead stickers all over the Celtics’ locker room. Finally, he convinced the entire team — minus Danny Ainge, whose wife wouldn’t let him — to go see a Grateful Dead concert.
In typical Walton fashion, he showed up with no tickets or passes, banged on the back door and said he was with the band. The team sat on stage for the concert and loved it so much they returned for a second show the next night.
Though it’s just one window into Walton’s wild world, it showcases just how unique he is — on top of being a very skilled basketball player in his heyday. Walton helped the Celtics win the 1986 NBA Finals and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993.
After his NBA career came to a close, Walton decided to take up sports broadcasting, as many former professional athletes do. However, his approach is, well, about as Walton as it gets.
“I don’t sleep much. I’m on the go. My mind is racing. My wife says my mind is like the rolling dials on a slot machine. So, yeah, I think about everything.”
“When you got to hang around with Bill, you saw and did a lot of interesting things.”
— Kevin McHale, in The ’86 Celtics documentary.