LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 05: Head coach Rex Walters of the San Francisco Dons (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
I'm getting older. Churning out a mile on the treadmill isn't as easy as it was during the Randy Ayers era. I need extra motivation now. And, sure, I'm still listening to Blink 182's "Small Things," but, at 27, I need more than just a TRL staple on repeat. So I let my mind drift, wander. Like this past Monday.
I'm an undrafted, undersized point guard who is plucked from the NBDL. In the first round of the playoffs, our hot-headed, surly starting point guard goes down with an ankle injury. Desperate, the head coach calls my number.
This is your chance, Dave.
I dominate. I'm penetrating, finding the open man. Knocking down open jumpers. The crowd is rocking. And I can defend, too. My hands are active, like two teenagers grinding at a school dance.
I'm getting all up in those passing lanes.
We're winning. Our team makes a historic run deep into the playoffs (We were a #7 seed. Limped in; midseason coaching change, et al).
So fast forward to Game 7 of the NBA finals. We're on the road, trailing by one. Just ten seconds left.
Coach calls a high pick and roll.
Now, the defense was prepared for this play. The big man hedges, but I shoot a high-arcing, contested long jumper over his outstretched fingertips. Jordan and Mike are screaming from their TVs. They hate that I'm settling for a long two. But what do they know? They're just silly bloggers who never played real sports.
I bury it.
We win the championship. The boy who I visited in the hospital just days prior makes a miraculous recovery.
"He's gonna be alright," they tell me.
Doctors can't explain it. Local clergy can't explain it. No one can. But we can all agree on one thing.
Something special happened.
I ran one mile in a crisp 9:53.
Name: Rex Walters
Born: March 12, 1970
Sixers Tenure: 1995-1998
Very-Believable Dialogue from 1998:
"`When I was traded there, it was something they had to do,'' Walters said of the Sixers. ``It wasn't like they wanted Rex Walters. So I never felt like Philadelphia was my home.'' (Philadelphia Inquirer; February 4th, 1998.)
Few Philadelphia athletes were more polarizing than Rex Walters. He was a topic, a social agenda that divided the city at the seams. A mid-90s Sixers fan always had an opinion of ‘ol Rex, and it was firm. It was unwavering. Now, there were two distinct sides to the Rex Walters debate - a debate mind you - that helped determine your political affiliation and social status.
Camp #1: Rex is an integral piece to the rebuilding process. He can play both guard positions. He can stretch the floor with his range. He's a poor man's Jeff Hornacek.
Camp #2: Rex is undersized. He can't defend. He's not athletic enough. He talks in third person.
The Rex Walters issue didn't just affect the employees inside the Spectrum. It extended to the streets of South Philly, to the radio, to the once comfortable homes of Suburbia.
"Honey, we need to talk about this. I think Rex is just hindering the growth of our young backcourt."
Can you please pass the spaghetti?
"Bill, I'm not just going to sweep this issue under the rug. We need to see what we have in Trevor Ruffin."
I'm not getting into this now. Not in front of the kids. Now, can you please pass the spaghetti?
Personally, I sat firmly in Camp #1. Like most eleven year olds, I just wanted hope, a sign - a reason to watch a 20-56 team in the midst of a four game west coast swing. I wanted a glimpse of anything really. Remember the TV show, I Shouldn't Be Alive? There are some similarities there. Sure, mid-90s Sixers fans weren't dehydrated and lost in the African Brush for two weeks, and, no, I didn't know of anyone suffering from gangrene in Section 211. But, hey, watching your favorite team play like mush year after year is a pretty dire situation, too. You become desperate. You think about your family. You etch your will in the dirt with a twig. You cling to the faintest of mirages.
His name was Rex Walters.
Rex wasn't a sexy name like Vernon Maxwell or Willie Burton. But he had his moments. In a thriller in Boston, for example, Rex dropped a LeBron-like 27, 11, and 9. Walters initially saw a spike in playing time at the end of the '95-'96 season, a painfully long Sixers campaign that provided newspaper ledes like this:
After checking with the league office last night to insure that what John Lucas put on the Spectrum court qualified as an NBA team, the Nets' 82-79 loss to the lowly Philadelphia 76ers was without doubt their worst this season. (New York Daily News; April 9, 1996).
Back in '96, I convinced this kid on my travel basketball team (Yeah, I played Under-12 travel ball - no big deal) that my $20 sneakers from Value City were, in fact, "the new Rex Walters." I guess he forgot about the endorsement deal Rex signed with Stride Rite. But, looking back, I guess a lot of people forgot about Walters. He left the Sixers mid-season in 1998 with very little fanfare and never looked back.
He had no attachment to Philadelphia.
``It wasn't like they wanted Rex Walters."
Wrestling Intro That Was Edited Out
On name alone, "Terrible" Rex Walters should have been a professional wrestler. He would have been a cowboy probably; a bad guy who wore a one-shoulder strap singlet and was the mischievous childhood friend of Bart Gunn. Rex and Bart would have feuded up and down Sunday Night Heat. I would have watched. You would have, too.
Rex Walters appeared in one movie. Name that movie.