He's 30 years old now, plays for the San Diego Clippers, wears goggles and has a "new" left foot.
Other than that, Bill Walton, all 6-foot-11 of him, is virtually the same dominating center he was when he led the Portland Trail Blazers to the NBA championship six seasons ago. He is averaging 13.8 points, 10.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists, and shooting 50 percent while averaging 34 minutes a game. He is second in the league with 3.7 blocked shots a game.
Walton had played only 14 games in the four seasons before this one because of repeated stress fractures in the tarsal navicular bone. Going into tonight's game with the Bullets at Capital Centre at 8:05, he has already appeared in 21 games this season.
The desire to play was always there. "I just couldn't do it before now," said Walton.
He had his left foot surgically rebuilt two summers ago and started playing casually after that. Now, with Walton playing again, the Clippers are starting to look like they can compete with any team in the league.
"Any team that has Bill Walton is going to be a good team," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue. "He makes a world of difference."
When the season began, Walton seldom practiced with the team and played one game a week while attending Stanford Law School. On Jan. 20, he was given the go-ahead to increase his playing time. His only stipulation now is that he can't play on consecutive nights.
Walton, who has completed three semesters at Stanford, is on a leave of absence, with no timetable for re-enrolling.
His physical condition will be re-evaluated March 1. If he keeps progressing, all limitations will be lifted.
San Diego played Detroit last night, but because he had played against Boston Wednesday, Walton sat out the game. He is scheduled to start against the Bullets.
"Whenever he plays, it's like adding three or four dimensions to our club," said guard Al Wood.
The young Clippers, with one of the biggest front lines in the National Basketball Association--6-10 rookie Terry Cummings and 6-11 Tom Chambers, plus Walton--pose problems for many teams.
The Bullets, with their new small lineup that includes 6-7 Greg Ballard and Charles Davis at forwards, could be overmatched.
The Clippers were 4-23 before Christmas, but have gone 10-10 since. Cummings, an early-season holdout, has emerged as probably the top rookie in the league. He is averaging 22.7 points and 10.2 rebounds, and twice has been NBA rookie of the month.
The Bullets were still smarting yesterday from Wednesday's two-point loss to Kansas City, in which they lost a 23-point lead in the final 13 minutes . . . Shue and the players said they liked the new lineup. "It puts pressure on us to rebound better, but we have more movement and we get out quickly when we do get the rebounds," said Ballard. "It's a running lineup and I think it'll work," said Ricky Sobers . . . Dave Batton, sent home at halftime with flu Wednesday, didn't practice yesterday.