Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Chet Walker's Big Day

     Under their no-nonsense young coach Dick Motta, the Bulls became one of the NBA’s best teams in the early 1970s, winning 50 or more games in four straight seasons. One of their stars of those years was Chet “the Jet” Walker, the silky forward who along with Jerry Sloan was the spiritual leader of the team. In 1971-72, the Bulls rang up a 57-25 record, the best in franchise history prior to the 1990-91 world championship club. It was a great year for Walker, whose tenth NBA season proved to be one of his best. When he was inexplicably left out of the All-Star Game that year (he was included in 1970, 1971, 1973, and 1974), teammates and fans were incensed, but Walker said nothing. He preferred to make his statements on the court.
     On the Sunday afternoon of February 6, 1972, Walker made a most emphatic statement. He scored 56 points against the Cincinnati Royals at the Stadium, breaking Bob Love’s club record of 47 and his own personal high of 44. It was also the top single-game output in the NBA for the season.
     The crowd of 15,130 was largely composed of Boy Scouts who were enjoying a special outing. They saw Walker score 16, 13, 14, and 13 points in the four quarters as the Bulls romped to a 119-94 win. Cincinnati coach Bob Cousy tried matching up Nate Williams, then Tom Van Arsdale, and finally Ken Durrett against Walker, but none of the three could stem the onslaught. “I don’t think he [Cousy] has a defensive forward who can stay with Chet,” Motta said afterwards. “If they concentrated on Chet, Love would have the same kind of game.”
     Motta removed Walker from the game with ten minutes left and the Bulls safely ahead. By that time Chet had scored 43 points. As the fourth quarter wound down, someone passed a note to Motta informing him that Walker was only one point shy of a career high and four short of the club record. Motta put him back in with 5:05 remaining. “I don’t usually do that,” Motta said, “because I think [individual] records are horseshit. But nobody in the world deserves it more than Chet. He’s given me more than I deserve.”
     Guard Bobby Weiss, who had been feeding Walker most of the day anyway, now went to him every time the Bulls got the ball. “Early, we were going to whoever was open,” Weiss said, “as we always do. We were feeding Chet to win then, because he was in position for the shots. It wasn’t until the last few minutes that we disrupted things to look for him.” Walker established his personal best when Sam Lacey was whistled for goaltending with 4:28 left. A little over a minute later, a 12-foot jumper equaled Love’s mark. Finally, with 2:44 Walker made a spectacular move for a layup and was fouled by Durrett in the process. He coolly sank the free throw to give him a three-point play that advanced his total for the game to 50.
     “I knew I was scoring a lot,” said Walker, “but I didn’t know about the record until Benny [Bentley] announced it to the crowd.”
     When Motta took him out for good with 21 seconds left, the tally stood at 56. As Walker came off to a standing ovation, the first man to shake his hand was Love, whose club record he had surpassed. “He’s a great player,” Love said, “and everybody’s very happy about it. One thing about this team—there’s no animosity. We’re very close.” The Bulls were also very good, but their title aspirations were regularly thwarted by the Western Conference’s two great teams of those days, the Milwaukee Bucks, who won 63 games that year, and the Los Angeles Lakers, who won 69 (including 33 in a row).
     To this day, Chet the Jet is one of only two players in Bulls history to have scored 50 or more points in a single game. He accomplished the feat once, and the other player--whose name you can probably guess--did it 37 times.

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