With Tom Heinsohn staying behind in Boston, Bill Walton, legend on the floor and in the booth, will join Mike Gorman as Comcast SportsNet’s color commentator for the upcoming back-to-back starting tonight in Portland. Walton’s handle on hyperbole made him one of the most interesting personalities around the league, but after 19 years of broadcasting, he left ESPN in 2009 to address back pains that were so intense that, he said, he’d wake up some days feeling “useless.” After seeing Dr. Steven Garfin at the University of California — San Diego, Walton went through a grueling, but life-changing surgery. He was at the Finals last summer and recently, he started calling games again part time for the Sacramento Kings. Tonight, he’ll get to see two of his former teams in action.
Walton says that before the 8½-hour surgery 14 months ago, he had become useless. He couldn’t walk and had trouble sleeping. But he had encouragement from his friends and especially from his wife, Lori.
“There were four incisions, four 4-inch bolts, two titanium rods and a cage that holds it all together and spacers in between the vertebrae,” he said. “It was the hardest thing I’ve had to go through, much more difficult than all my other surgeries combined. It’s come so far, the evolution of back surgery, and doctors constantly are improving.
“I can’t describe the pain. Think of being submerged in a tub of boiling acid with an electrified current running through it. That would be nothing. People who haven’t had that nerve pain can’t know. It’s debilitating, excruciating, unrelenting. I had to eat lying on the floor, flat on my stomach.
“It was not an elective surgery. I couldn’t even crawl. No drug worked. I tried everything — acupuncture, yoga, massage. You name it, I did it. But I got lucky and found Steve Garfin, and now I’m finding a better way back to help people. How can you begin to thank Steve Garfin and NuVasive, getting me back in the saddle one more time? A new life, at 57.”