Ex-mates praise Chet Walker

Updated: September 6, 2012, 11:12 PM ET
By Roman Modrowski | ESPNChicago.com

Tom Boerwinkle remembers the whispers, the subtle suggestions that Chet Walker was being traded from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Chicago Bulls in 1969 because he was on the downside of his career.

[+] EnlargeChet Walker
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty ImagesChet Walker averaged 19.3 points for the 1966-67 76ers, who won 68 games and were considered one of the greatest teams of all time.

It didn't take long for Walker to lay those rumors to rest. In six seasons in Chicago, he averaged nearly 21 points per game and helped a fledgling franchise to four consecutive seasons with at least 50 wins.

Was Walker underrated toward the end of his career? Perhaps. Some, like former teammate Jerry Sloan, believe Walker was underrated even after his career, at least when it came to the Basketball Hall of Fame. But Walker's wait ends on Friday, when he joins Reggie Miller, Don Nelson, Nike co-founder Phil Knight and others in the class of 2012.

"He should have been in a long time ago," said Sloan, a fellow Hall of Famer. "He was one of those guys who knew how to finish a game and make plays down the stretch."

Walker was a prolific scorer. He averaged 18.2 points over 13 seasons, and he averaged 19.3 points for the 76ers' 1966-67 championship team, which won 68 games and was considered one of the greatest of all time.

He was shipped to Chicago two years later.

"Chet was traded for Jimmy Washington, and the rumor I had always heard was that the reason Philadelphia was willing to give him up was they felt he had reached his prime and was kind of on a downswing of what was a great career," Boerwinkle said. "I think he played five or six years in Chicago, and I have to believe -- and they were different teams -- but I have to believe they were some of the most productive years of his career."

The Bulls were in their third year of existence and missed the playoffs with 33 wins during the 1968-69 season. But the 6-foot-6 Walker joined Sloan, Boerwinkle, Bob Love and later Norm Van Lier to form one of the toughest teams in the league. Walker never missed the playoffs with the Bulls, but he fell short of repeating as NBA champ.

"The first thing that comes to mind with Chet is the pump fake," said Love, a Hall of Famer who will be in attendance Friday. "Chet had the best pump fake in the history of the game. He was unguardable.

"He was one of the three best face-up players in history, with Elgin Baylor and Oscar Robertson. He could face you up, shoot or drive to the baseline."

Those attributes later defined a position known as the point forward, which was made famous by players such as Scottie Pippen and Magic Johnson.

"They later talked about point forward, but Chet was one of the first guys I met who was a point forward," Sloan said. "He would handle the ball and make the play, or he would post you up.

"We were a young team trying to figure out what's going on, and he brought savvy and ability and he knew how to do things on his own. He was our only player you could throw ball to and he could score. The rest of us had to use the offense."

What Walker's former teammates can agree on is when he was at his most dangerous.

"One thing I've always said about Chet was that to me he was one of the greatest clutch players of all time," Boerwinkle said. "I don't think he received fair recognition for it, but back with that team we had, we played an awful lot of close games. We didn't blow people out, but we didn't let people run away from us.

"At the end of the game it was just amazing how efficient Chet was. He had an innate ability once he received the ball down low 3-5 feet from the basket to get people off balance and go up and make the shot. Obviously, they don't keep stats on that, but he was just amazing at the end of a game. He wasn't exceptionally quick or fast or a great leaper, but he just had tremendous instincts."

Walker won NIT titles with Bradley in 1957 and '60. The Syracuse Nationals selected him in the second round in '62 and he made the All-Rookie team before going on to play in seven All-Star Games.

"I played against some of the best, best players in the history of this game," Walker said at HOF ceremonies on Thursday. "And being alongside these guys is just amazing.

"I remember Bill Russell was my hero, and I remember once when I was a rookie and we were playing the Celtics, and he came over and blocked one of my shots. And I said, 'Wow, that's great.' It was a good feeling to have this guy next to me.

"I'm so thrilled and happy to be part of the Hall of Fame family and with all these great players and great people who have been such an inspiration to the game of basketball."

The brevity of Walker's comments Thursday wouldn't surprise his former teammates.

"Chet was a quiet guy," Boerwinkle said. "He was not someone to talk about his own accomplishments.

"I'm thrilled to death now to see him get the accolades he deserves."

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