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SPORTS WEEKEND | TV-RADIO

He Can Talk the Talk and Walk the Walk

March 30, 2001|LARRY STEWART

It may be hard for those not familiar with Bill Walton's background to envision when he couldn't talk.

"It wasn't a slight speech problem," he said from his hotel room in Minneapolis on Thursday. "I couldn't talk at all. I couldn't say hello, I couldn't say thank you."

Walton, 48, learned to talk at 28.

Dr. Ernie Vandeweghe put Walton together with the late Marty Glickman, and they spent a weekend together in San Diego in 1980. Glickman, then a "sportscasting coach" for NBC, worked with Walton and taught him how to talk without stuttering.

"It's one of those lessons of life," Walton said. "You work on your weaknesses. In basketball, if you can't dribble with the left hand, that's what you work on.

"I had failed to work on my problem. I had no idea I could learn how to speak."

He has been like a kid with a new toy. "I haven't shut up since," he said.

His critics would concur. And Walton seems to have plenty of critics these days.

"I do the best job I can," he said. "I can only be myself, that's all I can be."

Commentators are often hired because of their marquee value and then collect a nice paycheck without ever offering a strong opinion. Walton offers plenty of strong opinions, and he gets criticized for it.

He took some extra heat when he and Dick Enberg worked Arizona's last two NCAA tournament games. One of Walton's four sons, Luke, plays for Arizona.

It wasn't the first time Walton had worked a game involving one of his sons. He called a Louisiana State game when oldest son Adam played for the Tigers, and Walton worked an Arizona game earlier this season.

On Sunday, when Arizona defeated Illinois to advance to the Final Four, he didn't openly cheer for his son's team, although at times he may have let a little anguish show.

"I love the big moments, the championship moments, and that was a great game between two great teams," Walton said. "Luke is a basketball player and I'm a broadcaster and before we went to San Antonio I told Luke we were both going there to work. We weren't going on a family vacation.

"I told Luke, no matter what, I'm going to the Final Four. Now he is too."

IN DEMAND

Walton is everywhere these days, working NBA games for NBC and Clipper games for Channel 9 and Fox Sports Net 2. This weekend, he'll be part of the CBS Final Four cast working the studio show.

To use Walton, CBS Sports President Sean McManus had to get permission from NBC.

Of criticism directed at Walton last weekend, McManus said, "We got a handful of [complaint] calls. We got way more compliments.

"We have no regrets assigning him to work his son's games. I think the extra emotion factor added to the enjoyment for viewers."

Walton picks Michigan State to win it all. He likes Duke over Maryland. And Arizona?

"It's basically impossible for young players to duplicate the emotional commitment that was required for the victory over Illinois," he said, diplomatically.

ACCIDENTAL APPEARANCE

Phil Jackson was on Jay Leno's show Tuesday night, as scheduled.

Jeanie Buss was also on the show, only her appearance wasn't scheduled.

Leno did a bit about college students on spring break and secrets they keep from their parents. Members of the studio audience, shown in freeze frame, were part of the bit.

For instance, a caption under a young man said his parents didn't know he had flunked out. And a caption under a female member of the audience read, "The only thing ever passed from Kobe to Shaq."

A caption under someone identified as Jennifer Nile read: "In the last week, the most downloaded photo on the whole Internet." The person shown was a blushing Buss, who had accompanied Jackson to the show.

Obviously, the cameraman had no idea who she was. Nor did Leno. Buss, always a good sport, after the show said, "If I had known I was going to be on camera, I would have worn makeup."

Jackson, who is promoting his new book, "More Than a Game," is making the rounds. He was also on "60 Minutes II" Tuesday night. Buss, also interviewed, said of her relationship with Jackson: "We're not Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. . . . We're two adults. . . . I really don't understand the fascination."

Jackson will be a guest of Craig Kilborn on CBS' "The Late, Late Show" Tuesday at 12:35 a.m.

SHORT WAVES

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