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Tony D'Amelio

By: Tony D'Amelio on November 1st, 2016

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Overcoming Adversity: How Did NBA Legend Bill Walton Stop Stuttering & Begin Sports Broadcasting?

Motivation | Leadership


It’s amazing how we look at celebrities and presume they’re living a charmed life.

Legendary college and NBA superstar BILL WALTON is one of the most beloved athletes from college and pro sports. He led UCLA to two NCAA titles and the Portland Trailblazers and Boston Celtics to NBA championships. He’s an absolute original – a colorful broadcaster, great humanitarian and philanthropist, and certified uber-Dead Head having seen more than 850 concerts. But most people don’t know about Bill’s difficult journey away from the basketball court - something he reveals in his 2016 New York Times bestseller Back From The Dead.



From childhood through college to his pro career, basketball was Walton’s sanctuary. It was a place where he didn’t have to think about his speech. His size and ability also meant that it was the one place where he wasn’t teased mercilessly. Amazingly, on the court, Bill could play – and speak (yell was more like it)  - without any hesitation. "I never had any trouble yelling at the refs," Walton said. "In the heat of the game; when it was just totally spontaneous, I could get out there and really scream and yell at the refs. But it was only in basketball, and it was only at the refs." When the game ended, Walton stuttered again.

Walton’s speech challenges in his personal life pushed his focus to the basketball court – and to reading, which he loves, thanks to the influence of his mom, a librarian. He became one of the best players on the court -- a place where he didn't have to think about his speech.



“I had a speech class one year, and they laughed me out of the class," said Bill. It didn't matter to his classmates that he was the college basketball Player of the Year. He was trying to make it in school, and they just laughed him out of the class.

At awards ceremonies and media events, Walton shied away from microphones -- he had other people speak on his behalf. "When I had to actually formulate words and make a statement, I could not do it at all," he recalls. His stuttering was so severe that he couldn't say simple phrases like "thank you."

In the NBA, he faced some of the toughest and most legendary players in the history of the game. Playing basketball with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Larry Bird came naturally – but speaking still eluded him.


After ankle-fusion surgery ended Walton’s career prematurely, Bill incredibly set his sights on the broadcast booth. That meant finally getting serious about his stuttering. It was long-time friend and Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Glickman who pulled Bill aside at a social event and offered to help. "He gave me some very basic tips, and I applied those tips with the same diligence and dedication I learned from my coach at UCLA, John Wooden,” Walton explained. "I thought about fundamentals and how to start with the basics, like the ability to mechanically duplicate moves on the basketball court, and I just applied that to speaking." Sounds simple enough – but it was a long and arduous journey.

SUPPLEMENTAL RESOURCES:  Leadership Lessons: Bill Walton's Favorite John Wooden Quotes 
and Bill Walton:  Encouraging Other to Overcome Obstacles


After months of practice, dedication, and sacrifice, Bill not only gained the ability to speak, he found his way back to the game he loved through sports broadcasting. Walton got a chance to try out as a broadcaster with NBC Sports. It was the final game of the season of the Continental Basketball Association game and the league was folding the next day. It didn’t matter to Bill – he was back in basketball. Before the game began, Bill’s fears resurfaced. He describes his first broadcast with Dick Enberg as "painful" but credits the veteran Enberg with easing him into the role that day.

Bill Walton has gone on to win numerous awards for his broadcasting excellence and is currently a commentator for ESPN and PAC-12 basketball. In 2009 he was named one of the “Top 50 Sports Broadcasters of All-Time” by the American Sportscasters Association.

The worst is over for Bill’s stuttering problem. "I used to be really embarrassed about stuttering. But now I realize that it's something that is a part of me -- something that I have to deal with and work on every day. If I don't work on it, I'm not going to be able to do my job. It's always a challenge," Walton said. He doesn't mind the challenge -- that's what makes him strive to do his best.

For others who suffer from the debilitating effects of stuttering, Bill says, "It's important to know that help is out there. The ability to learn how to talk is easily the greatest thing I've ever done. Winning two NCAA championships and two NBA titles was nice, but I knew it was going to happen. Learning how to speak has given me a whole new life. I have been set free.”

TELL US YOUR STORY: How have you overcome adversity? Comment below to share your story or  click here to learn more about Bill Walton's remarkable life on and off the court.


About Tony D'Amelio

Tony has spent his career putting talented people and audiences together, first in the music business and later representing the world's leading speakers. After concluding 27 years as Executive Vice President of the Washington Speakers Bureau, Tony launched D'Amelio Network, a boutique firm that manages the speaking activities of a select group of experts on business, management, politics and current events. Clients include: Mike Abrashoff, Mariana Atencio, Chris Barton, Lisa Bodell, Geoff Colvin, Daryl Davis, Suneel Gupta, Ron Insana, Katty Kay, Polly LaBarre, Nicole Malachowski, Ken Schmidt, and Bob Woodward.

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