Portland Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers

Bill Walton is in Portland this week promoting his new book, "Back from the Dead."

In the book, Walton leveled criticism against the Trail Blazers and, specifically, former team physician, Dr. Robert Cook. And Cook isn't taking too kindly to Walton's writings, comparing his ex-friend's work to an old Randy Travis country song.

"It's like the song says," Cook said this week, "'I'm digging up bones, exhuming things that are better left alone.'

"I see he's doing a reading this weekend at Powell's. That book should be on the fiction shelves over there, at least the parts that deal with the Trail Blazers and his medical treatment."

The issue is the diagnosis and treatment of Walton's foot injuries, which eventually doomed his career as a Trail Blazer.

He says in the book that "The Blazers and the doctors told me that the pain in my foot was a mental thing -- it was all in my mind.

"They took me to a hypnotist, who had me lie on a table as he swung a watch in front of my eyes.

"... Then the Blazers and the doctors told me that my problems were in my soul. So they took me to a faith healer."

Cook says those things never happened.

Walton wrote that the team doctors failed to "diagnose the problems with my feet..." and they were "blaming me... shooting my foot up with painkillers only to have it break apart, for failing even to read the X-rays properly. They never acknowledged they were wrong, or said they'd try to make things right... I felt betrayed and that they just didn't care about what happened to me."

 

Cook paints a much different picture in the rough draft of a book he's writing about his career of 20 years as a team physician for the Bullets and Trail Blazers. Cook's draft says, "Five doctors had evaluated Walton prior to the development of the navicular fracture finally demonstrated on X-ray. One prominent physician, Dr. Robert Kerlan (founder of the still renowned Kerlan Jobe Clinic) was among those who evaluated Walton. Dr. Kerlan diagnosed Walton with a "dorsal foot strain," which was a commonly shared diagnosis of other consultants... "

Kerlan later amended his diagnosis with the words, "possible stress fracture" and so Cook called him and Kerlan said it occurred to him later and he had his secretary add it. According to Cook's account, Kerlan "apologized and stated, 'don't be concerned, I am totally in your corner.'"

Cook's book draft also mentions, "At this point, let me add that Walton's injury occurred before major radiological advances such as CT scans and MRIs. As a result, stress fractures were much more difficult to diagnose."

Cook also includes details in his draft of the $5 million suit that Walton filed against Cook and the Trail Blazers over his medical treatment, details that were heretofore not revealed anywhere.

"Prior to the trial Walton and his attorneys retreated from the 5+ million figure to 1 million dollars, that was declined, next to 1/2 million again declined, next to 1/4 million again declined and finally $125,000 was proposed and at that point the insurers 'who have the last word' took over and the matter was settled with agreement that the actual number was confidential."

Cook and the Trail Blazers seemed to have additional leverage in getting the early settlement. In the draft of his book provided by Cook, the doctor reveals contents of a pre-trial deposition with Walton in which the player was asked about his use of "cocaine, mescaline, peyote and other drugs."

Cook said Walton was questioned about "several specific accounts of drug-related events." That line of questioning coming out in open court certainly would have been a bombshell in the late 1970s as Walton was looking for another team to play for in the NBA.

Attempts to reach Walton by telephone, e-mail and text Wednesday were not successful.

The draft also relates a story about the suit:

"Several days later Walton's teammate and our mutual friend, the Enforcer, Maurice Lucas, told me, 'Doc, Dollar (in reference to one of many nicknames Dollar Bill) said not to take it personally.'

"My response was 'Don't take it personally, you tell that big son of a (bleep) I'm taking it real personally.'"

And he obviously still does.