The 2007 NBA playoffs kick off this weekend, and to prep for the upcoming two months of hoops action, TVGuide.com caught up with ESPN/ABC analyst and color commentator Bill Walton. The Hall of Fame big man was kind enough to not only break down the playoff picture, but also fill us in on why two-time MVP Steve Nash is comparable to... the Grateful Dead?
TVGuide.com: What's the big story going into the playoffs this year?
Walton: In the Eastern Conference, there are a lot of stories. Can Miami repeat? Is Dwayne Wade healthy? For Detroit, can Chris Webber be the one to put them over the top? This is a team who's been at the top knocking at the door for a long time, and they only have one championship to show for it. Is this a team for the ages, or is this just a one-and-done team? Then there's LeBron James: Who's going to be able to slow down his ascension to the top, and are the players around him good enough?
TVGuide.com: As for the West, is it all about Dallas and Phoenix?
Walton: Let's talk big picture. The Mavericks have been tremendous all year. They have depth, size and talent — everything you need to win a championship. Whether they get that done is a major question. Championships are won by dominating the paint. Will Dirk Nowitzki be that guy to compensate for the fact that their center position will be outmanned? Tim Duncan has been outstanding. Amare Stoudemire has been excellent. The Phoenix Suns have the best front line in basketball, but if they're going to win the championship it's going to come down to Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw. They're the unknown, but these two guys give the Suns the versatility, uniqueness and the complete front line that nobody else really has. I think the winner of the Suns and Spurs in the second round will eventually win the West.
TVGuide.com: So then, who will we see in the finals?
Walton: I'm looking at a Phoenix-Miami finals.
TVGuide.com: The Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki is an MVP candidate again this year. Is this finally the year he bests Phoenix's Steve Nash and wins the award?
Walton: I voted for Steve Nash. Dirk had an outstanding season, but Steve Nash missed six games this year and Phoenix finished six games behind Dallas. I don't think that's a coincidence.
TVGuide.com: What is ESPN going to have you do during the playoffs?
Walton: All kinds of stuff — games, studio work. I've got a very full schedule and I'll be all over. I'm just the luckiest guy in the world. ESPN has been the greatest thing that's ever happened to me. It's the greatest job I've ever had.
TVGuide.com: Better than playing basketball?
Walton: Playing basketball is not a job. But the people at ESPN are just wonderful and the sports-all-the-time atmosphere is great. The other network sports jobs, you're at the mercy of the news and entertainment divisions who say, "Well, take Sunday afternoon. Don't bother us, just make sure you're off the air by 6 Eastern." With ESPN, our lives are sports.
TVGuide.com: Speaking of your life being about sports, and your son Luke plays for the Lakers. What kind of advice have you given him going into the playoffs?
Walton: I don't talk basketball with Luke. When Luke joined the NBA, I told ESPN, the NBA and the Lakers that I was not going to be talking to him about basketball, because that puts him in an untenable situation. Things I say about his team could be misconstrued into people thinking that's the way Luke Walton feels. That being said, I'm a very proud dad, but their team is in serious trouble. Their big guys have not been able to get the job done. Every time they show Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at the games, I wish they would just put Kareem in the game, even though he's 60 years old.
TVGuide.com: You think Kareem can still get it done?
Walton: That guy, by far, is the greatest player I've ever faced.
TVGuide.com: Your Portland Trailblazers were able to beat Kareem's Lakers in the 1977 playoffs.
Walton: It was my dream come true to play against the king. I played my absolute best against him and he still threw 50 in my face every time. That's how great he was. That guy's left leg belongs in the Smithsonian.
TVGuide.com: New York, Philly and Boston were big-time basketball towns during your playing days. Now they're represented by three of the worst franchises in the NBA. Is there any hope for fans of those franchises?
Walton: Personally, as a basketball fan, I want two things for the NBA: I want Commissioner [David] Stern to figure out a way to get New York, Boston, Philly, Chicago and the Lakers back in the championship mix; that's one thing the NBA definitely needs. And I also want David Stern to convince Mrs. Nash to have more children.
TVGuide.com: You really love that guy.
Walton: Steve Nash is like the Grateful Dead. The quote about the Grateful Dead was, "They're not only the best at what they do; they're the only ones who do what they do." Like Magic Johnson and Bill Russell, with Steve Nash statistics mean nothing. It's all about style. It's all about the way the game is played. It's all about making your teammates stars. They win and are so much fun to watch. The way Steve Nash conducts himself on and off the court — his humble nature, his controlled ego — this is a great, great champion.
TVGuide.com: Wow. Is there any higher praise Bill Walton can bestow on a player than comparing them to the Grateful Dead?
Walton: No. That's the ultimate.
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