Walk, Neal : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Walk, Neal

Neal Eugene Walk

The first All-America basketball player at the University of Florida, Walk is the only player in school history to have his number retired (No. 41). An able 6'10" center, Walk's professional career got off to an unfortunate start when he was the second overall selection in the draft in which Lew Alcindor (later called Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) was the first prize. Walk was often invidiously--and unfairly--compared to his Hall of Fame contemporary. But he was a smart, capable pivot man whose abilities and unselfish play always made his teammates better. He is still the only center in Phoenix Suns history to register 1,000 rebounds in a single season (1,006 in 1972-73).

Birth and Death Dates:
b. July 29, 1948

Career Highlights:
Born in Cleveland, Walk and his family moved to Miami when he was 8 years old. As a high school player, he was named All-City as a sophomore when he led Lincoln High School to a 21-3 record. After filling out his 6'10" frame, Walk went to the University of Florida on a basketball scholarship, where he became the greatest player in school history.

One of the best college players in the country in the late 1960s, Walk averaged an incredible 20.8 points and 15.3 rebounds during his career. As a junior in 1968, he became the school's first-ever All-America player when he was named to the second team. That year, he led the nation in rebounding with 19.8 per game (494 rebounds in 25 games) and finished tenth in scoring with 26.5 points per game as the Gators had a record of 15-10. In 1969, his senior year, he was the only major college player in the nation to rank in the Top Ten in both scoring and rebounding as Florida had a record of 18-9. A three-time All-SEC (Southeast Conference) selection, Walk set 22 school records during his career.

At the 1969 NBA Draft, the Phoenix Suns lost the infamous coin toss to the Milwuakee Bucks for the top draft pick, and the rights to Lew Alcindor; the Suns drafted Walk with the second overall pick of the draft. He was the starting center during his second season and became an important part of a Suns team with players such as Connie Hawkins, Paul Silas, and Gail Goodrich. Walk had his best season in 1972-73 when he averged 20 points and 12 rebounds a game (eighth in the league).

In September 1974, Walk was traded to the the New Orleans Jazz in what Suns owner Jerry Colangelo called, "the biggest trade we ever consummated." At the time, Walk was in a self-described "strange hippie phase," and said of the trade: "I think in retrospect, Jerry made the right move in trading me...When your center is quoting Lao Tzu and 'The Book of Changes' and is eating sprouts for breakfast instead of furniture, it's time to make a change." Walk played three more seasons in the NBA for the Jazz and the New York Knicks. He finished his NBA career with 568 career games.

After leaving the Knicks in 1977, Walk played in Venice, Italy, and then accepted an offer to play in Israel, where he remained for three years and played for Ramat Gan Hapoel. While in Israel, he reconnected with Judaism and said of the experience: "...and the people were also beautiful. They loved to celebrate...I think that experience in Israel made me realize that I was happy to have the same blood as these people." Walk remained in Israel until 1981, when he returned to the United States, acknowledging that his basketball career had ended.

In March 1987, Walk woke up one morning and found he could not stand up straight without holding on to something for balance. Doctors found a benign tumor (probably there since birth) that damaged his spinal cord, affecting his ability to walk. The doctors recommended immediate surgery. Two operations in the late 1980s caused him to lose the use of his legs and forced Walk to be confined to a wheelchair. He says, "I wasn't real pleased about it, but I never contemplated suicide or anything like that...legs are like a car: they get you from point A to point B, but then again, prayer and meditation gets you from point A to point B. You can still have an effect on the world through your presence, your essence, your mind, your heart. Legs would be cool, but..."

Walk refused to quit and in 1989 became a member of the Samaritan Wheelchair Suns of the Southern California League of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. He also renewed his relationship with the Phoenix Suns when Jerry Colangelo offered him a job in the community relations department. Walk still works with the Suns and gives inspirational speeches through Suns Charities. He hopes to walk again and says, "I liken my situation now to being someone in the second-quarter...the half-time buzzer hasn't sounded, and I have the rest of my life to get out of this chair."

Origin:
Cleveland, Ohio

Career Dates:
Walk played center at the University of Florida, 1966-1969. He played center in the NBA with the Phoenix Suns in 1969-1974, the New Orleans Jazz in 1974-75, and the New York Knicks in 1975-1977.

Physical description:
6'10", 250 pounds

Career Statistics:
In the NBA:
Games: 568
Points: 7,157
Points Per Game: 12.6

Field Goals Made: 2,928
Field Goals Attempted: 6,386
Field Goal Percentage: .459

Free Throws Made: 1,301
Free Throws Attempted: 1,717
Free Throw Percentage: .758

Rebounds: 4,392
Rebounds Per Game: 7.7
Assists: 1,214
Assists Per Game: 2.1
Blocks: 105
Steals: 140

Personal Fouls: 1,788
Disqualifications: 44

NBA playoffs:
Games: 8
Points: 50
Points Per Game: 6.3

Field Goals Made: 22
Field Goals Attempted: 53
Field Goal Percentage: .415

Free Throws Made: 6
Free Throws Attempted: 8
Free Throw Percentage: .750

Rebounds: 40
Rebounds Per Game: 5.0
Assists: 4
Assists Per Game: 0.5
Steals: 1
Blocks: 2

Personal Fouls: 17
Disqualifications: 0



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References:
The Official NBA Encyclopedia: Third Edition, edited by Jan Hubbard (New York: Doubleday, 2000)
The Modern Encyclopedia of Basketball, edited by Zander Hollander (New York: Doubleday, 1979)
Inside Sports Magazine: College Basketball, by Mike Douchant with Jim Nantz (Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1998)


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