THE NATIONAL JEWISH
SPORTS HALL OF FAME AND MUSEUM
inductee details

Neal Walk

Inducted April 30, 2006


Sport: Basketball
Team: New York Knicks

Biography

The first All-America basketball player at the University of Florida, Walk is the only player in school history to have his number retired (No. 41). Neal was a smart, capable pivot man whose whose abilities and unselfish play always made his teammates better. He is still the only center in Phoenix Suns history to register 1,000 rebounds in a single season (1,006 in 1972-73).

As a high school player in Miami, he was named All-City as a sophomore when he led Miami Beach High School graduating in 1965 to a 21-3 record. After filling out his 6'10" frame, Walk went to the University of Florida on a basket¬ ball scholarship, where he became the greatest player in school history.

One of the best college players in the country in the late 1960's, Walk averaged 20.8 points and 15.3 rebounds during his career. As a junior in 1968, he became the school's first ever All-America player when he was named to the second team. That year, he led the nation in rebounding with 19.8 per game (494 rebounds in 25 games) and finished tenth in scoring with 26.5 points per game as the Gators had a record of 15-10. In 1969, his senior year, he was the only major college player in the nation to rank in the Top Ten in both scoring and rebounding as Florida had a record of 18-9. A three-time All¬SEC (Southeast Conference) selection, Walk set 22 school records during his career.

At the 1969 NBA Draft, the Phoenix Suns lost the infamous coin toss to the Milwaukee Bucks for the top draft pick, and the rights to Lew Alcindor, the Suns drafted Walk with the second overall pick of the draft.

He was the starting center during his second season and became an important part of a Suns team with players such as Connie Hawkins, Paul Silas, and Gail Goodrich. Walk had his best season in 1972-73 when he averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds a game (eighth in the league).

In September 1974, Walk was traded to the New Orleans Jazz. Walk played three more seasons in the NBA for the Jazz and the New York Knicks. He finished his NBA career with 568 career games.

After leaving the Knicks in 1977, Walk played in Venice, Italy, and then accepted an offer to play in Israel, where he remained for three years and played for Ramat Gan Hapoel. While in Israel, he reconnect¬ed with Judaism and said of the experience "and the people were all so beautiful. They loved to celebrate ... I think that experience in Israel made me realize that I was happy to have the same blood as these people." Walk remained in Israel until 1981, when he returned to the United States, acknowledging that his basket¬ ball career had ended.

In March 1987, Walk woke up one morning and found he could not stand up straight without holding on to something for balance. Doctors found a benign tumor (probably there since birth) that damaged his spinal cord, affecting his ability to walk. The doctors recommended immediate surgery. Two operations in the 1980's caused him to lose the use of his legs and forced Walk to be confined to a wheelchair. He says, "I wasn't real pleased about it, but I never contemplated suicide or anything like that ... legs are like a car; they get you from point A to point B, but then again, prayer and meditation gets you from point A to point B. You can still have an effect on the world through your presence, your essence, your mind, your heart. Legs would be cool, but..."

Walk refused to quit and in 1989 became a member of the Samaritan Wheelchair Suns of the Southern California League of the National Wheelchair Association. He also renewed his relationship with the Phoenix Suns when Jerry Colangelo offered him a job in the community relations department. Walk still works with the Suns and gives inspirational speeches through Suns Charities. He hopes to walk again and says, "I liken my situation now to being someone in the second-quarter ... the half-time buzzer hasn't sounded, and I have the rest of my life to get out of this chair."


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