By Michael Lev The Orange County Register
Bill Walton is not for everyone.
The one-of-a-kind basketball broadcaster is prone to hyperbole. He goes off on tangents that have nothing to do with … well, basketball. He speaks his mind in a way that some find refreshing, others revolting. He is an acquired taste.
Walton is, in a sense, the Howard Stern of basketball analysts. It was once said of Stern that the people who hated him listened to him longer than his fans. Both groups offered the same rationale: “I want to see what he’ll say next.”
“He’s very polarizing,” Dave Pasch, Walton’s partner on ESPN, said by phone. “Some people tune in and want to hear straight color commentary on basketball. Some like the mix. It just depends.
“I’ve worked with analysts who just break down the game. Some lean toward storytelling. I’ve never worked with somebody quite like Bill.”
Pasch has been Walton’s primary partner during this comeback campaign for the Big Redhead. Walton couldn’t work for several years because of back pain so excruciating he wanted to kill himself. After a life-changing surgery healed his back, he returned this season as a Pac-12 analyst for ESPN and Pac-12 Networks.
As you probably know, Walton basically called for Bruins coach Ben Howland to be fired earlier this month, blaming his coaching style for UCLA’s disappointing attendance at Pauley Pavilion. Walton concluded his anti-Howland rant by saying the fans who were there looked as if they were “getting ready to go to the dentist.”
To his credit, Pasch engaged Walton and insisted that he explain his position, which he did. Working with Walton forces Pasch to keep his antennae up at all times.
“It’s challenging, it’s fun and it keeps you on your toes,” Pasch said. “As a play-by-play announcer, you’re always listening to your analyst. With Bill, you listen extra hard.”
As mentioned at the top, not everyone likes what they’re hearing. One Orange County Register reader and college basketball fan told me she has muted games Walton was working. He is not universally respected by his peers, some of whom believe he gets away with being unprofessional simply because he’s Bill Walton.
I generally gravitate toward the overprepared analysts who teach me something I didn’t know, such as Cris Collinsworth. That isn’t Walton’s M.O., but he doesn’t fit into any sort of mold, and that’s what I appreciate about him. He stands out in a crowd, and not just because he’s 6-foot-11.
“There are so many college basketball games on TV,” Pasch said. “You can turn on ESPN and watch six or seven games in a night. There are a lot of great analysts who may just focus on the game. And then there’s Bill.”