Mike Breen shares touching story about Bill Walton’s kindness




Celtics

“They were the best three days of the late years of (my father’s) life, which were difficult for him, and Bill made them the best three days.”

Bill Walton Frank O’Brien/Globe Staff

ESPN NBA play-by-play announcer Mike Breen said calling basketball games with the late Bill Walton was like riding a roller-coaster.

There were twists and turns along with scary moments, but ultimately it was a fun ride, Breen said during a recent interview with Malika Andrews on NBA Today.

During the interview, Breen shared a touching story about the former Celtics center that had nothing to do with basketball. It was about the friendship Walton formed with Breen’s father near the end of his life.

“My dad had Parkinson’s disease and it started to get advanced to the point where we were afraid he wasn’t going to be able to travel much,” Breen said. “He really didn’t want to go out of the house much, so my younger brother Pete gave me a great idea.

“He says before Dad can’t travel, why don’t we take him out to San Diego where the USS Midway is stationed as a museum. My dad served on the Midway during the Korean War and had not been on the aircaft carrier since he left the service.”

Walton was living in San Diego at the time, so Breen called to ask for a hotel recommendation nearby.

“Of course, Bill was like ‘you’re not staying in a hotel, you’re staying with me,” Breen said. “I convinced my father and my brother, and the three of us went and we were going to spend three days at Bill’s house.

“When we got there, the first thing Bill did was put my father in the Bob Dylan room. The bedrooms were all named after people that meant something to Bill, and usually that had something to do with musicians, and the Bob Dylan room was a place of honor.”

Walton didn’t just give Breen’s family a place to stay. He took the time to hang out with Breen’s dad and form a bond.

“For the next three days, he did not leave my father’s side,” Breen said. “Wherever we went, wherever we ate breakfast or lunch or dinner, he was seated right next to my father. If we went for a drive in the car, my father was in the front seat next to him. ‘John you’re next to me, John you’re next to me.’ Didn’t leave him at all.”

Breen had planned to buy tickets to see the Midway, but Walton had called the museum in advance, saying ‘one of your heroes is returning to the ship that he served on.’

“So, the commander of the Midway is the one who greeted us,” Breen said. “We went on for about a two-hour tour and let me tell you, an aircraft carrier is no place for a 7-footer, especially one with back problems and knee problems because there are small little areas.

“You’ve got to duck everywhere you go. It was a painful walk for him, but he walked every step right by my father’s side and it was very emotional for my dad to go back. There were a couple of times when he broke down and so of course my brother and I got emotional as well, and we looked at Bill and he’s got the tears streaming down his cheeks.”

Breen said the moment was a special one for his father, who cherished the memory for the rest of his life.

“By the end of the three days, Bill wasn’t my friend, Bill was my father’s friend,” Breen said. “When he came back, he didn’t live much longer after that, but that’s all he talked about. My mother, who is still alive, said he talked about those three days over and over again. They were the best thee days of the late years of his life, which were difficult for him, and Bill made them the best three days.”

Breen took his family with him when he won the Gowdy award. They were surrounded by basketball royalty. But, there was only one man his mother wanted to meet. It was Walton, because of the kindness he had shown.

“She had to meet the man who did that wonderful thing for her husband,” Breen said.





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