How the Media Covered Bill Walton's 1978 Trade Request
In the first of a two-part series, a look at how local and national media outlets covered the divorce of Walton and the Trail Blazers.
The Oregonian (August 5, 1978)
Damian Lillard's July 1 trade request has shaken up the Trail Blazers' offseason, and how the exit of the franchise's all-time leading scorer is resolved will define how the next half-decade or more of basketball in Portland unfolds.
This is not the first time the face of the Blazers has asked to be traded. It happened twice before, with both of the other players in contention for the title of "best Blazer ever": Bill Walton in 1978 and Clyde Drexler in 1995.
Since both of the Blazers' previous superstar divorces were before my time (Walton's came 11 years before I was born, Drexler's when I was in kindergarten), I was curious about how they were covered in the media at the time.
It goes without saying that today's media environment is not the same as the one that existed in the 1970s or the 1990s. Social media has replaced newspapers as the most dominant source of information, and with that comes simply a higher volume of content on any topic and a lot more garbage to sort through.
The public attitude towards this kind of stuff has also flipped in the years since The Decision in 2010. It was far more common before then for the public, and newspaper columnists, to turn on players and call them selfish or entitled when they asked to be traded. Today, in the "player empowerment" era, it's mostly celebrated.
But in researching old newspaper and magazine articles from the late '70s and mid '90s, I was struck by how similar the framing and coverage of the Walton and Drexler situations were to how Lillard's trade request is talked about now, just in a different medium. It's a fascinating reminder that pro sports have always been largely the same through the decades.
This will be a two-part series. Today, we're going to look at the coverage of Walton's departure from Portland, from the time he requested a trade on Aug. 5, 1978 through his holdout during the 1978-79 season to when he ultimately left in free agency that summer to sign with the San Diego Clippers.
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