Bill Walton Dick Vitale Dave Pasch

Wednesday night’s ESPN broadcast of Dave Pasch, Bill Walton and Dick Vitale calling the NBA game between the Indiana Pacers and the Cleveland Cavaliers produced plenty of memorable moments, but the highlight may have been Walton sharing an unusual story about his connection to Cavs’ forward Richard Jefferson. Jefferson played at Arizona with Walton’s son Luke (now the Los Angeles Lakers’ head coach), and the senior Walton wound up inadvertently creating some NCAA eligibility trouble for him:

“So here’s a story about Richard. He’s living in our house while Luke and he are going to Arizona. He and Luke are on the team, and all kinds of other guys, and they’re all there all the time. So I’m off to the NBA Finals, and they’re like ‘Dad, Bill, can we come too?’ (Vitale interjects ‘That’s a NCAA violation! That’s a NCAA violation!’) We all show up to the game, the NBA Finals, and we all have a fantastic time, then it’s in the newspaper and Richard Jefferson gets suspended. What’s up with that? Ruined his college career. What is up with that?”

Yep, that’s pretty much exactly what happened. According to an Arizona Daily Wildcat piece from the time (2000), Jefferson went to San Diego that June for the high-school graduation of Luke Walton’s younger brother Chris. Bill Walton bought NBA Finals tickets for their family gardener, but the gardener wasn’t able to make it, so he offered the tickets to Luke and Jefferson. Despite Jefferson being friends with the Walton family since high school, the NCAA still determined that to be an impermissible violation, and Jefferson eventually wound up suspended for two games. (His suspension could have been longer, but the NCAA allowed it to end after two games after he donated the $281 value of the ticket to charity.) For his part, Jefferson blasted the NCAA over it at the time:

“Why would someone want to stay in college?” he said. “You look at all this bullcrap going on, and why would someone want to stay in college…It’s like there is a bunch of witch-hunts going on. I haven’t done anything wrong.”

Jefferson had a point there. Even by the standards of NCAA violations, that’s an odd one, and it seems like a lot of punishment for a gift from a family friend. Even if you support the rule, it’s not every day that a NBA Hall-of-Famer gets his son’s friend suspended by offering him a NBA Finals ticket. It’s interesting to see that saga brought up again on the ESPN airwaves. It also let “Dave???” Pasch get a great one-liner in afterwards: “Is that why he didn’t talk to you?”

[Ben Koo on Clippit]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.