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By The Skanner News | The Skanner News
Published: 19 October 2009

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- A tearful Bill Walton has apologized to Portland Trail Blazers fans 30 years after leaving the team he led to its only NBA championship.
Walton returned to Portland on Friday for the first time he could remember to receive an award, make a speech for Special Olympics and attend a fundraiser for the Blazers.
The former center turned broadcaster has been in seclusion for much of the past 2 1/2 years because of a severe back injury. He's able to travel again because of successful surgery.
Walton left Portland in 1979 after demanding to be traded and accusing the team of pressuring him to play through what had become repeated foot and ankle injuries.
His departure left many fans unhappy, but the 56-year-old Walton apologized Friday at an emotional news conference and said he hoped to make things better in the future.
"I'm here to try and make amends for the mistakes and errors of the past," Walton said. "I regret that I wasn't a better person. A better player. I regret that I got hurt. I regret the circumstances in which I left the Portland Trail Blazers family. I just wish I could do a lot of things over, but I can't.
"So I'm here to apologize, to try and make amends, and to try and start over and make it better."
His recent back surgery was his 36th orthopedic operation of his life.
Walton says he has two fused ankles; 11 bolts throughout his body; and knees, hands and wrists that don't work, symbolic and telling of a 14-year NBA career in which he had only one offseason when he didn't have at least one surgery.
Throughout his career, he missed 762 games because of injury, the equivalent of nine seasons.
Just before his rookie season, he had knee surgery. Then during his rookie season he missed 47 of the 82 games because of foot ailments. In his second season, he broke his ankle and missed 31 games. Even in the championship season he hurt his ankle, missing 17 games.
In the 1977-78 season, the year after the Blazers won the championship, Portland was rolling along with a league-best 50-10 record when a slew of players went down with injuries, including Walton.
He returned for the playoffs but broke his foot in the second game of the first series against Seattle. The Blazers lost, and Walton decided he wanted out of Portland.
His unhappy departure left many fans disappointed with Walton.
He said fan support pushed him to heights he couldn't reach by himself, but he seldom returned the favor. He was too injured and too wary of opening himself up to the public.
"The love they gave me was something I could not return," Walton said. "And that's something that will forever be a stain, a stigma, on my soul. I can't wash it off."

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