Neal Walk, drafted right after Abdul-Jabbar, dies at 67
PHOENIX — Neal Walk, a tough center on the early Phoenix Suns teams who became an inspirational speaker after losing the use of his legs, has died at age 67.
The Suns confirmed his passing in a statement on Monday.
"We were saddened last night to learn of the passing of Neal Walk, an integral member of the most successful Suns teams in our franchise’s early years," the Suns said in the statement. "The Suns will always remember and appreciate the many contributions Neal made, both on the court with his scoring ability and tenacious rebounding, and later as a community ambassador and photo archivist with the team."
Walk lost the use of his legs in a surgery to remove a tumor from his spine in 1987.
Phoenix drafted Walk as the No. 2 pick overall in 1969 after losing the coin flip with Milwaukee to draft Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor).
"My answer to the coin toss," he once told azcentral sports, "was always, `I didn’t toss it and I didn’t make the call. I just play basketball.’"
Walk averaged 20.2 points and 12.4 rebounds in the 1972-73 season. Charles Barkley is the only other Sun to top the 20-point, 10-rebound average.
The 6-foot-10 Walk also played for the New Orleans Jazz and New York Knicks in his eight-year NBA career.
Walk, who had a standout college career at Florida, averaged 12.6 points and 7.7 rebounds in his NBA career. In five seasons with the Suns, he averaged 14.7 points and 8.9 rebounds.
Then-Suns owner Jerry Colangelo, who as general manager had drafted Walk, created a community relations job for him. Walk gave inspirational talks and established camps for disabled athletes.
"No matter how a person came across their malady, people with maladies have hearts and souls and feelings, and they’re capable," Walk said in one of his speeches.
In 1999, Walk became as photo archivist for the team, a job he held until 2012.
According to an obituary on azcentral sports, Walk received the Gene Autry Courage Award in 1995 and was invited to the White House after being named "wheelchair athlete of the year" in 1990. He was inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.
Walk is survived by his wife, Georgia, and a brother.