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Former NBA center tips off popular lecture series

August 20, 2010

The irony of his name hits you immediately: Neal Walk can only dream of taking another step.

The former Phoenix Suns player works in the archive services department for the NBA team and gives inspirational talks from a wheelchair – a device he hopes he will one day no longer need.

Walk’s “Sports and Disability” will tip off the fall 2010 Humanities Lecture Series, sponsored by ASU’s School of Letters and Sciences at the Downtown Phoenix campus. His lecture takes place 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 2 at the A.E. England Building, 424 N. Central Ave., Phoenix (directly across the street from the University Center Building).

This year’s lecture series, which examines human issues related to sports, is free and open to the public.

“Most would not argue about the centrality and influence of sports organizations on our culture; we usually do not realize how they shape our various identities. This fall we hope to explore this very theme by looking at how some very brave individuals have negotiated many challenges and conflicting messages about what it means to both follow your dreams and be who you are in sports and life after.  The School of Letters and Sciences hopes this Humanities Series schedule will allow the audience to reflect on our ability to be resilient, steadfast and genuine, and at times, against all odds,” said Mirna Lattouf, a senior lecturer with the School of Letters and Sciences and coordinator of the lecture series.

Whatever the future holds for Walk, he likely will be forever linked in the minds of basketball fans to the infamous coin toss that the Suns lost to the Milwaukee Bucks before the 1969 draft.  The prize was 7-foot UCLA center Lew Alcindor – who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“I was looked at by the media as the booby prize,” Walk said, “but they never mention the 1,000 rebounds I grabbed in a season.”  In 1972-1973, he averaged 20.2 points and 12.4 rebounds a game, and became the first Suns center to ever record a 1,000 rebound season.

Following his NBA career Walk eventually returned to Phoenix in l985, and underwent a series of surgeries to remove a tumor from his spinal cord. He was left confined to a wheelchair, but his courage and determination enabled him to continue a productive life working with the Suns.

“I liken my situation to being someone in the second quarter of life. The halftime buzzer hasn’t sounded, there’s a whole lot of life to be played and I have the rest of my life to get out of this chair,” Walk said. “But that’s fine if I don’t. Who knows what’s in store for me? Maybe by the time I get out of this wheelchair I’ll be comfortable in it.”

The lecture series resumes next month with David Kopay’s presentation of “Sports and Homosexuality”, which takes place 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 21, Nursing and Health Innovation Building II, 550 N. Third Street, Innovation Auditorium, room 110, Phoenix.

Mirna Lattouf, Ph.D,
Lecturer, Sr.
(602) 496-0638