In March, NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas compared Kevin Durant’s foot problems to those of another NBA great, Bill Walton, who battled foot injuries his entire career. While it’s a worthwhile comparison, it’s not altogether perfect, as Walton and Durant have different games and different body types.
They also have different medical histories.
“I have structural congenital defects in my feet from birth,” Walton said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “I just struggled with that my entire life. And the more I played, the worse it got. When I played, my feet would just break. I ground my feet up into dust. I’ve had 37 orthopedic operations, most of them on my feet and ankles. Both my ankles are fused. But Kevin Durant, we hope for the best for him. That guy is an awesome dude and he’s a tremendous player. He epitomizes all that’s good about sports. I truly love watching that guy. I love knowing him as a human being and watching him interact with people out there. We wish him nothing but the best.”
Walton also pointed out that today’s medical care is much, much better than it was even a few decades ago, and he advised listeners to never compare injuries.
“Everyone is unique in and of themselves, and mine were all caused by the structural congenital defects that I was born with,” Walton said. “He, apparently, does not have those.”
Durant, 26, is a six-time All-Star and four-time scoring champion. His injury was the No. 1 reason why the Oklahoma City Thunder (45-37) missed the playoffs due to a tie-breaker this season.
The New York Knicks, however, have no injury excuse to fall back on. In fact, the Knicks (17-65) were the second-worst team in basketball this year.
“Losing in the NBA is awful,” Walton said. “It breaks you down. It tears you down. And now Phil’s job is going to be somehow to find a way to lift the spirit and make people believe.”
That Phil, of course, is Knicks team president Phil Jackson. The 69-year-old won two NBA titles as a player and 11 as a head coach, but can he do that as an executive?
“Absolutely, yes,” Walton said. “I’m the biggest Phil Jackson fan in the world. This is a guy who, he makes players better at what they do and then he makes people better at who they are – and that’s the ultimate test of leadership.”
Brandon Tierney agrees that Jackson’s resume and reputation are second to none, but winning from the sideline is not the same as winning from the front office.
Or is it?
“It’s all the same,” Walton said. “It’s how you work with people and how you’re able to interact on a constant basis. His biggest challenge is to get the right people. They don’t have that right now, and he’s going to have to change it. He’s going to have to change a roster to get the guys who will work in his world. Phil Jackson is a champion on and off the court. I love that guy, and that’s the reason I believe in the future of the New York Knicks.”