Just Chill, Says Bill Hot about the glacial pace of the NBA playoffs? A wise old Deadhead advises you to cool it

May 05, 2002

The slowest miniseries in television history is not Brideshead
Revisited, it's Magic-Hornets. God created the heavens and the
earth in half as many days as the Nets and Pacers were allotted
on the schedule to play five games. The Jazz and the Kings last
week were given three days off to travel from Sacramento to Salt
Lake City, a distance of 850 miles. So it has come to this:
Actual mailmen now make better time than the Mailman.

Because the NBA playoff schedule has all the momentum of Gosford
Park, moves at the pace of tectonic plates and provides each team
three days between games to better accommodate television
executives, I asked the sport's most excitable observer to
expound on the ruination of basketball. This is what Bill Walton
said: "What?!"

But, Bill, just last week Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley
and every columnist in America complained that the playoffs take
longer than church.

"What are you complaining about? Listen. To play or watch
basketball for a living is the greatest job in the world. Anyone
who doesn't think so needs to take a long walk on a sunny day and
then look in the mirror and ask, 'What has happened to me?'"

But, Bill, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said after Game 2 of
the Spurs-Sonics series, "Game 3 is in a month and a half."

"You may recall," said Walton, "that the game is played for the
fans. If you go back to just one day between games and
overlapping games on TV, people will say, 'How are we gonna watch
all this?'"

But, Bill, you're the most depraved consumer of basketball on the
surface of our pebble-grained globe, a man who is--at this very
moment--traveling to 30 NBA games in 30 days on a grand tour of
the postseason....

"Actually, I started my tour in '74. The bus came by, and I got
on. There was Cowboy Neal at the wheel of the bus to Never-Ever
Land."

But, Bill, many of our readers do not speak Neptunian and would
ask you to repeat that in Earthling.

"'The bus came by/And I got on./That's when it all began./There
was Cowboy Neal/At the wheel/Of the bus to Never-Ever Land.'
Second song ever written by the Grateful Dead. It's called The
Other One...."

But, Bill, you're not exactly traveling by bus these days...."I
tried. I tried to get Ken Kesey's bus, but it didn't pass
California emissions testing. Too much smoke coming out of it."

But, Bill, your journey thus far, from Sacramento to Los Angeles
to East Rutherford to Charlotte to Boston to Seattle to Portland
to Salt Lake City to Indianapolis: Surely it has proved, to use a
basketball phrase, that traveling is a violation.

"No, I've had plenty of high-altitude training for this sort of
thing. Fifteen years ago, when Neil Young, the Grateful Dead, the
Rolling Stones and the Jerry Garcia Band were all on tour at the
same time, I went to 17 shows in 17 days. The difference this
time: There's no sleeping in parking lots and bathing in public
fountains."

But, Bill, the playoffs. They're too long. Dallas had a shorter
TV run than Dallas-Minnesota....

"All I know is that New Jersey used to be a morgue, and last week
I danced with 20,000 people there to the Spencer Davis Group
singin' Gimme Some Lovin'. I met fans in Charlotte who still love
basketball even though they've been--as we all know--the victims of
a coup. I watched Game 1 of Celtics-Sixers on TV from Los
Angeles, and my life flashed before my eyes. First playoff game
in Boston in seven years, the crowd chanting 'MVP!' and all I
could think of was watching Russell and Wilt on TV as a kid and
knowing that is what I want to do with my life."

But, Bill, you're ruining my column. I was trying to work up some
moral outrage here. This was supposed to be a screed against the
plodding playoffs. Seattle's been rendered subsonic. The
FleetCenter isn't. Speedy Claxton ain't.

"Listen. Last spring I had my 31st surgery, an ankle fusion, and
my son Nathan sat at the edge of my hospital bed and said, 'Bill,
what are you gonna do when you're able to walk?' And I said,
'Nate, I'm never gonna sit down again.' And I'm not. I'm having
the time of my life. The music never stops."

But, Bill, that's wonderful. Which is to say, terrible. Your
happiness has robbed me of a column. You're parading on my rain.

"You know, there's another great line from that Dead song. 'They
busted me for smilin' on a cloudy day.' That's true. You notice
that? Nobody likes it when you smile on a cloudy day."

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ZOHAR LAZAR

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