The competitive fires still burn within Bill Walton and Dave Cowens, a pair of redheaded centers on the verge of making basketball comebacks. Neither one has appeared in a National Basketball Association game in nearly two years, yet both have been scraping away the rust in anticipation of possible returns to action.
NBA fans are licking their chops over the prospect. After all, each player was a league MVP during the 1970s, and each led his team to at least one NBA championship. The Boston Celtics won titles in 1974 and '76 with Cowens; the Portland Trail Blazers captured the '77 crown with Walton.
Without any advance notice, Cowens up and retired after a 1980 exhibition game. The club later feted him at a sendoff celebration, where he collected the rocking chair that now sits in his Regis College office. He has been athletic director at the women's school in Weston, Mass., a Boston suburb.
Almost as suddenly as Dave retired, he got the urge to play again and has been working out seriously at the college for several months. Having accumulated a strong front line since his depature, the Celtics don't really need his services anymore and have been trying to work out a deal to send the 33 -year-old Cowens to Phoenix.
For several years, Walton experienced injury problems that became the focus of a million-dollar lawsuit against the Blazers' team physician, a suit eventually settled out of court. The injury ultimately ended his on again-off again career 19 months ago -- or at least appeared to. Lately, however, he's popped up in several informal, summer games, playing on a team of UCLA alumni.
His recovery appears nearly complete, and his return to the talent-needy San Diego Clippers a very real possibility. In his coming-out party, the 6 ft. 11 in. Walton had 24 points, 21 rebounds, and five blocked shots in a game against a collection of former Nevada-Las Vegas collegians.