Q&A with Chet Walker
NOWN FOR HIS DEVASTATING OPEN COURT ABILITIES, Chet "The Jet" Walker came to Chicago on September 2, 1969 when the Bulls obtained Walker and Shaler Halimon from the Philadelphia 76ers for Jim Washington and future considerations.
Walker played seven seasons in the Windy City before retiring. Prior to coming to Chicago he played for the Philadelphia 76ers, which featured future Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Billy Cunningham and Hal Greer, and helped lead the 1967 team to an NBA title.
"The Jet" was selected to the All-Star team seven times, four while a member of the Chicago Bulls (1970, '71, '73 and '74). His three other selections came as a Philadelphia 76er (1964, '66 and '67). He was named to the All-Rookie Team in 1963. Walker holds numerous spots on the Bulls' all-time lists: fifth in points (9,788), fourth in free throw percentage (.854), fifth in field goals made (3,558), third in free throws made (2,672), sixth in free throws attempted (3,129) and seventh in minutes played (15,809). Walker led the Bulls in free throw shooting in five of six seasons (1969-71, 1973-74) and in field goal shooting in four seasons (1969, 1971-72 and '75). Walker averaged 18.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 32.4 minutes a game. Walker shot .796 from the free throw line for his career.
Question: What are your thoughts being nominated to the Hall of Fame?
Chet Walker: It's a great honor. It's something that not many players get a chance to experience. So I was delighted to be nominated.
Q: What was your initial reaction when you were told that you were nominated?
Walker: Well, (laughing) I wasn't jumping up and down or anything. It's been 20 years since I retired. I just resolved the fact that it probably wasn't going to happen (being nominated). But when it did, I felt pretty good. I felt honored.
Q: What have you been doing after those 20 years after basketball?
Walker: I work as an independent film producer in Los Angeles. I'm working on a documentary right now. It's a documentary on a lady named Katherine Drexel. She's a nun who started a school to educate the freed slaves when they were making the transition from slavery into the free world.
Q: Beside filmmaking, what else have you been doing?
Walker: That's about it. I live at the beach. I hang out at the beach sometimes.
Q: What kind of movies have you worked on?
Walker: I did a movie on Isiah Thomas' mother. I won an Emmy for that. (It was called) "A Mother's Courage." I filmed it in Chicago, as a matter of fact, on the west side. Then I produced a film called "The Father Clemons' Story." It was a story about that priest in Chicago who used to run school called Holy Angels on the south side.
Q: Do you get a lot of material from Chicago?
Walker: Chicago is a town that has a lot of culture and a lot of history. And there are a lot of things that have evolved out of Chicago that I am aware of. I majored in history in college, so I like to do human interest stories based on things that I know.
Q: How did you get into filmmaking after retiring?
Walker: I don't really know. A friend of mine got me into it. I was looking for something interesting to do what would kind of give me the excitement that I got from playing ball. You don't get the same excitement, but it's close to it, as far as creativity is concerned. I just kind of stumbled into it.
Q: How long ago did you "stumble into it?"
Walker: In 1981 I did my first feature. I did a mini-series called "Freedom Road" that was based on a Howard Fast book. It was on NBC and it starred Kris Kristopherson and Mohammed Ali. I've done about seven mini-series and movies of the week. Well, I did a feature film last year.
Q: What are your goals?
Walker: Win an Oscar. I've won an Emmy already. Why not?
Q: What's it like working with these people, actors and actresses?
Walker: Well, I don't know. I like working with directors and writers. Stars, I'm not in awe of stars because I've danced among stars in Philadelphia. Directors and writers are people who you really learn from, so those are people I really like to work with.
Q: What's it like on the other side of the camera now?
Walker: I work in the business part of filming. It's good to be a boss for a change. It's a tough business. I wish I could be a little more successful at it, but I have learned a lot and I have a lot of projects that I now have in development. I'm thinking in the next five years I'll have a huge resume. But it's a tough business.
Q: What's the most enjoyable aspect of filmmaking?
Walker: It's the creativity part of filmmaking. It's a really difficult, frustrating business sometimes. And once you put a project together and it's finished, it's an enormous result of what can be created.
Q: Speaking of creativity, what are your thoughts on Michael Jordan?
Walker: He's a fabulous, great player. He's like a ballet dancer in gym shoes.
Q: Do you keep up with what's going on in Chicago?
Walker: Ah, only what I see in the papers and when I talk to some of my friends back in Chicago. They bring me up to date with all the gossip.
Q: What do you think about Michael retiring then?
Walker: Well, if he wants to quit, then he should quit. It's his choice. He's given the city and the NBA more than they could ever ask for. I think he should retire when he's ready.
Q: How did you decide when to call it quits?
Walker: Well ... there's a lot of signs that tell you when to retire. Physically I started to wear down. Mentally it was difficult to constantly get up for every game. You know, after 13 years, you've seen everything, you've heard every pregame speech, every halftime motivational speech. And when it gets to be a little repetitive, then I think it's time to quit.
Q: What was it like playing in Chicago?
Walker: It was wonderful. The old Chicago Stadium was the epitome of an arena to play in. I played my first six years in Philadelphia. Chicago, the town itself, is a special place. I loved the city, I loved playing in Chicago Stadium.
Q: How would you evaluate your career?
Walker: I did okay. I scored about 18,000, almost 19,000 points. I was lucky to play on the world championship team in Philadelphia. And I was able play on a team in Chicago that really made basketball in Chicago happen. I mean the six years that we were together, myself, (Bob) Love and (Jerry) Sloan and (Norm) Van Lier and (Tom) Boerwinkle was the year that made basketball happen in Chicago. And now that I've been nominated for the Hall of Fame, it's the cap of a great career.
Q: What was it like playing with those Hall of Famers -- Chamberlain, Cunningham and Greer in Philadelphia?
Walker: That was one of the greatest teams of all time, you know. The year we won the championship we were 68-13. Billy Cunningham was the sixth man on the team. So it tells you a little bit about the talent that was on that team. Chamberlain was an all-time great. Just to play with him was an honor. And also he's a good friend of mine. Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham and Wally Jones and Lucious Jackson were all All-Stars at one time or another. They were just a great group of guys, a great team.
How do you explain averaging almost 15 points with all of those great scorers and great players on that team in Philadelphia?
Walker: When you get the ball, you have to make sure you make the basket. You're not going to get it that much. I think one year I almost averaged 20 (points) a game. It was a team and we went to the man who was holding the hot hand. It was a very unselfish team. I think Wilt probably averaged in the low 20s, which was his lowest point average in his career. But it was totally a team (effort). A lot of great players, a great team.
Compare that with what you see in the Bulls of today.
Walker: You can't compare the two teams because it was a different era. The Bulls probably play the best team basketball since the old New York Knicks of the early 70s. Because Michael Jordan dominates but he is such a great team player, despite the fact that he averages 30 points a game. And that's why they win.
What was it like playing with Jerry Sloan and Bob Love ?
Walker: Oh, it was great. Sloan is the ultimate team player. He provides all the little necessities that a team need to have in order to win. Also, he's a great player. He averaged like 16 points in his career. People always saw him as a defensive player, but he was a really good offensive player. He was a good guy, one of the all time great people. And Bob Love is very special. When I came to Chicago from Philadelphia, he wasn't starting. And he kind of made it the hard way. He worked the hardest, just to prove to people he could play.
Comment on Sloan coaching the Utah Jazz now.
Walker: He's done a great job. Last year, when they played the Bulls, they were right there. The ball could have bounced a couple ways and they might have brought them (the Bulls) down. And I think Sloan coached an excellent game, an excellent game. He didn't make too many mistakes in that game, coaching-wise.
Do you think Sloan would be able "D" Michael Jordan.
Walker: He could have played him, but he couldn't have stopped him. Played him well, but he could not have stopped him. I guarantee that Michael would have to worked hard for whatever he got.
What do you think about Michael being a coach?
Walker: Never. Well, I don't know. I shouldn't say that. I would assume that if he wanted to coach, he could be a good coach. He certainly knows the game.
How has the NBA changed since when you played?
Walker: Well, of course the money. I think the game is probably is faster. It's more a full-court game now. When I played, it was half-court. I think at the time I played, we executed better than they do now because the gym is much more wide open because of the three-point line. But, it's still basketball.
Has anything else changed?
Walker: Well, it's kind of interesting. Read the papers. It seems to me that the communication between the players and the coaches is not the same. It seems like there's really a lack of communication not going on now and it's probably because players make so much money. And I remember when I played, we would socialize with the coach after the game sometimes, especially on the road. Even the coaches were the boss, we also had a personal relationship with our coach. It seems to me that's not the case today. There seems to be a lot of negativity between players and the writers, the press. I always had a great relationship with the press. On the road, the guy that covered our games was like family. You know sometimes they got on my nerves, but otherwise for the most part, we had a good relationship.
Do you remember any of those writers then?
Walker: Well Lacy Banks covered us for a while when I was there. And Bob Logan and Bill Gleason. And he's a really good friend of mine now. He still writes. I forgot who else was there. Rick Tally.
What do you miss the most about not playing?
Walker: I miss the relationship with my teammates. I was lucky I only played with two teams so I established close bonds with a lot of my teammates. Of course when you retire, you all go off in different directions. But I miss the relationship between myself and my teammates.
Do you still keep in touch with your teammates?
Walker: I still talk to Norm Van Lier once in a while. And I talk to Clifford Ray once in a while. And I've seen Wilt out here in LA a couple times.
What is your greatest moment in basketball?
Walker: There are so many moments. Of course the championship in Philadelphia in '67. My first All-Star Game in '64 at Boston Garden. Probably my greatest moments with the Bulls were emotional letdowns, you know, because we lost a couple of really tough games. In the seven game series where we had won we probably could have gone to the championship. We lost one to the Lakers, they won those 33 games. We had them beat in LA in the seventh game. Wilt blocked a shot on Van Lier and they beat us. We could have gone on. We had beat New York during the course of the season very handily. And my last year there we lost the seven game series in the finals of the West to Golden State. Those are not fun, positive memories, but they're great memories. They stand out, absolutely.
Did Wilt tell you anything after that series?
Walker: He told me that we should have won. He told me that walking off the court that we should have won the series. That's easy for him to say, after they won.
Do you have any fond memories of Chicago?
Walker: I played in over a 1,000 games in Chicago and they gave me a little trophy. That was nice. I enjoyed that. There were great moments playing with all the guys. It was always great playing in Chicago Stadium. I really love that place.
Have you been to the United Center?
Walker: I was there once. I really couldn't get a good feel. It seems kind of big, huge. Of course it wasn't as intimate as the Stadium. But I assume that it's a good place to play.
Do you still go/watch ballgames in LA?
Walker: I don't go to any game at all. I've watched what I can on television. I just don't want to go. I enjoy it better on television, you can see things on the replays.
Do you ever think of coming back to Chicago?
Walker: To live? No. It's too cold. I can't handle that cold weather anymore. I was really from Michigan. I shouldn't say never because I love Chicago. But the thing that I'm pondering now, is if I go in (the Hall), how do I go in. Do I go in as a Bull or a 76er?
Does that matter to you (going in as a Bull or 76er)?
Walker: Well, my friends in Philly said I should go as a 76er.
And your friends in Chicago?
Walker: Go in as a Bull. Either way, it's going to disappoint a lot of people.
What would you rather go in as?
Walker: I'm not saying. (Laugh) At this time I'm not saying.
Advice for players entering the league.
Walker: It's tough to give advice to players who make the money they make. You can play three years and retire. But I would just have to say that they should respect the game because a lot of people have worked hard to make the game what it is today. They should try and prepare themselves for the future when their playing days are over.
Have you ever been to the Hall of Fame?
Walker: No. I've been to Springfield but I've never been to the Hall of Fame.