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Bill Walton on overcoming stuttering — “If I don't work on it, I'm not going to be able to do my job”

Bill Walton admits he is still overcoming stuttering on a daily basis despite a successful career as a broadcaster.
Television color commentator Bill Walton

Bill Walton

Bill Walton had a heck of a career in the pros. After his retirement, he was also blessed with an opportunity to become an all-time great broadcaster. But unknown to many, Walton had to overcome a speech impediment that almost cost him his TV career.

“If I don’t work on it, I’m not going to be able to do my job”

Bill Walton grew up stuttering, which made him an easy target for school bullies. However, he later found out his safe sanctuary: basketball. Amazingly, he could speak clearly and well whenever he was playing.

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.

Bill was back at conquering his demons when the game was over. Allegedly, it became so bad he couldn’t even say “thank you” properly. But as in basketball and life, Walton was no quitter. He had survived 38 orthopedic surgeries during his career, but ultimately, it forced him to retire prematurely. 

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The former Portland Trail Blazer big man couldn’t stay away from the game and dreamt of being a broadcaster, a job that didn’t suit those who stutter. Fortunately, broadcaster Marty Glickman mentored him and gave him tips on how to overcome his speech disorder.

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.

Tips on how to overcome stuttering

Walton was named one of the “Top 50 Sports Broadcasters of All-Time” in 2009, a testament that anyone could overcome any challenge with patience, hard work, and dedication. He shared some tips that Glickman taught him.

  1. Chewing sugarless gum helps strengthen the jaw and get the mouth moving.
  2. Read out loud. This helps build up confidence when speaking in front of many people.
  3. Practice, and don’t be afraid to fail. Confidence comes from repetition and preparation.
  4. Reach out and help someone who is undergoing the same process. Sometimes, all it takes is someone willing to help and be patient in teaching how to overcome stuttering.

Walton still battles his condition every day, but it doesn’t look like it. He is a picture of a man who refused to get rolled over by doubts, fears, and limitations. Big Red-Head was successful on an off the court, but it wasn’t easy. He just worked hard for his achievements. 

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