Leads Ucla To Two Ncaa Championships
In his first year at UCLA, Walton played on the freshman basketball team, after which he played the next three years on the varsity team, coached by Wooden. During that period, the Bruins basketball team won eighty-six games and lost only four, winning the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship in both 1972 and 1973. Walton was named Most Valuable Player in the NCAA tournament both of those years. By the time Walton graduated from UCLA, he was widely recognized as the best college basketball player in the country, having scored 1,767 points and 1,370 rebounds in his eighty-seven college games. During his college years, Walton earned a reputation as something of a rebel with his support for left-leaning causes, long hair, and commitment to vegetarianism. He was also an outspoken critic of President Richard Nixon and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. During his junior year at UCLA, Walton was arrested while participating in a protest demonstration against the Vietnam War.
In the NBA draft of 1974, Walton was the number one overall pick, tapped by the Portland Trailblazers. Walton had shown himself to be unusually prone to injury during his years of playing basketball in high school and college, and this vulnerability seemed to grow during his early years with the Trailblazers. During his first two seasons of NBA play, injuries sidelined Walton for about half of the team's scheduled games. He seemed to come into his own during the season of 1976-1977, averaging nearly nineteen points per game and leading the league in rebounding and blocked shots. In the post-season, the Trailblazers faced off against Philadelphia in the NBA Championships. Portland lost the first two games but, led by Walton, came back to win the next four to take the championship. Walton was named Most Valuable Player of the championship, having set single-game records for defensive rebounds and blocked shots.
Walton began the 1977-1978 season with an even more impressive performance, leading the Trailblazers to victory in fifty of their first sixty games. However, injury sidelined Walton for the final twenty-four games of the regular season. He returned to play during the NBA playoffs but was forced to drop out again when it was discovered that he had broken a bone in his left foot. Without Walton, Portland fell to the Seattle Supersonics in the playoffs. Injury forced Walton to sit out all of the 1978-1979 season. Despite his history of injury, Walton in 1979 was signed to a five-year contract with the San Diego Clippers, a franchise that in 1984 moved to Los Angeles. Injury kept Walton out of play for most of his first two seasons with the Clippers, drawing widespread criticism from San Diego fans and his teammates. During the Clippers' 1983-1984 and 1984-1985 seasons, Walton bounced back, once again playing impressively, but the Clippers never experienced the success of the Trailblazers in NBA play.