The SPORTS PHILOSOPHER says: ‘Who the heck is Neal Walk?’

March 12, 2012
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     I played my kid in tennis the other day.   He’s on his school tennis team.   He’s 15.  

     I beat him.

     Okay, okay, so we only played two games.   I’m in my 50s, my knees are shot, I can barely move, and, after a couple grueling games of (gulp) tennis, can barely breathe.   And he’s young and strong; not fair!   But alas, what I lacked in athleticism I made up for in guile, court savvy, and paternal sneakiness, and along with a big serve and a little luck I managed to win this abbreviated contest, 2 to 0.   It was hardly the headline sports story of the weekend.

     Compare this less-than-epic event with the hoopla surrounding Peyton Manning these days.

     The recently-released future Hall of Famer apparently isn’t good enough to play for the 2 and 14 Indianapolis Colts, but despite his sobering ouster from the franchise he virtually put on the Midwest map, practically every other NFL team who needs a quarterback—and some that don’t—have been wine-ing and dining the 4-time MVP like he was Prince William deigning to stop by for a royal visit.  (Come to think of it….with his high forehead, receding hairline, dopey grin, and huge skull, I just now realized that Manning sort of looks like Prince William….doesn’t he?   I mean doesn’t he???)



     Anyway, Manning is probably the most sought-after NFL free agent of all time.   Why not?   He’s not that far from being the best quarterback of all time, so his being the most sought-after player ever certainly makes sense.   But it’s nice to be wanted anyway.   And make no mistake, Manning is wanted.   He’s currently more popular than a donut salesman at a Wal-Mart half-off sale.   By this time next week he’ll be a signed-and-sealed member of either the Broncos, Cardinals, Seahawks, Titans, or Dolphins.   They all want him badly.   If nothing else, the man has sure piled up a lot of frequent flyer miles this month.

     I got to thinking.   Has there ever been a bigger clamor over who acquires a player in any sport in my lifetime?

     The closest thing I could come up with is the case of one Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Jr.

     “Lew” Alcindor was the greatest college basketball player there ever was.   I don’t think anyone disputes this.   His UCLA Bruins won three national championships in three years and set records for extended excellence that will never be broken.   And Alcindor—7 feet 2 inches tall, with the coordination of a man a foot shorter—was indeed the nearly unstoppable basketball force.   Whoever drafted him out of college was sure to inherit success.   Instantly.

     Back then, they had a system where the two worst teams the previous year would flip a coin for the right to have first pick in the draft.   That way you couldn’t lose games on purpose during the regular season just to ensure you’d get he best player out of college the very next year.   When Alcindor graduated, the two teams flipping the coin for the right to draft him were the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns.   Two recent expansion teams hoping to jump-start their legacies right from the get-go.   This was 1969.   I wasn’t even in high school yet, but I remember what a big deal it was.   And I remember when Milwaukee won the coin flip their executives went crazy.   For them it was literally like winning the lottery.  

     The Suns?   For them it was like winning a date with the head cheerleader’s ugly sister.   Having lost out on Alcindor, they did the only thing they could do.   With the second pick in the draft they went ahead and drafted Neal Walk.

     ‘You ever heard of Neal Walk?


     The rest, as they say, is history.   Alcindor changed his name to the now more familiar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, won the NBA title for the Bucks in just his 2nd season, wound up on the Lakers, and then won five more world titles.   He also won 6 MVP awards and scored over 38,000 points, both all-time NBA records.   Walk, who holds the NBA record for most body hair, scored about 7,000 points, never won a title, got traded a couple times, and finished his career in Italy.   It’s 40 years later, and the Phoenix Suns have still never won an NBA championship.   Had that coin turned over one more time?   Well….

     So you can see why who gets Manning really does matter.   At least it could matter.   It could alter the course of NFL history.   It’s a big deal.

     But is it really a bigger deal than me beating my kid in tennis, probably for the last time?   Not to me, it isn’t….

meet….The Sports Philosopher!

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, undiscovered literary giant, and a big fan of both Peyton Manning and Neal Walk.   Brad’s other recent columns for La Verne Online can be found in the Sports Section under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.   His columns on very old and very underappreciated movies can be found by clicking Arts & Entertainment, then clicking ’Upon Further Review’.   Brad has also written 4 fine novels* and over 20 short-stories.   

*To pick up a copy of his recently published novel of life at the racetrack, of triumph, and of utter despair, called WHERE GODS GAMBLE, a tale of American mythology, simply search for that title on,, or   And then order it.   And then READ it.   And then tell everyone about it.   He thanks you.




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