And in an effort to make room for future Hall of Famer Billy Cunningham in the starting lineup, Ramsay fixed his crosshairs directly on Walker.
“Jack had been trying to trade Chet all summer to Chicago for Jimmy Washington,” Williams said in the first of several recent interviews with The News Journal, as he recounted signing, drafting or trading for a majority of the top 10 players in 76ers history.
“He did not think Chet and Billy Cunningham were the best combination. And he couldn’t do it because there was no GM [in Chicago],” Williams said. “There was nobody running the team. But then the Bulls ownership hired me, and Jack’s position was, ‘I’ll let you out of your contract to go to Chicago, but this trade has to take place as part of it.’ So I said, ‘Yes. ... If you let me out,
I’ll make that deal.’ And so we did.”
It was consummated that very same afternoon, in fact.
“I’m sure the Chicago media thought I was a quick worker,” Williams said. “But truth be told, that deal was already set up.”
Walker was a quiet guy, known as a deep thinker and a key cog in the Sixers’ success while playing alongside those giants of basketball in Philadelphia. He already had been selected to three All-Star games at the time of the trade, though none since that magical run to the championship in ’67.
But the eventual seven-time All-Star became the main attraction in Chicago. He was the go-to guy and turned in another six seasons of superb basketball, during which he garnered four additional All-Star nods.
“As a teammate, the team was No. 1,” Cunningham said at Walker’s Hall of Fame enshrinement. “He sacrificed so much of his talents that you later saw when he went to Chicago. ... It truly was an honor to play behind him on the Philadelphia 76ers. He’s a special man.”
Walker was one of the original 76ers.
The 6-foot-6 forward played six seasons with the Sixers and one with their predecessor, the Syracuse Nationals. He averaged a double-double in his first season in Philadelphia and 18.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists over his 13-year pro career.
Walker made an immediate impact once the Nationals selected him out of Bradley with the 12th overall pick in the second round of the 1962 draft. He was named to the 1963 All-Rookie first team before the Nationals moved to Philadelphia and became the Sixers the following offseason.
“He was a great offensive player, really,” Williams said, “and perfected the head-and-shoulder fake on the baseline. And no matter how many years he was in the league, defenders never did get used to it or adjust to that patented head-and-shoulder fake. He would go up and get fouled almost every time. It was just remarkable. He made a career of that for 13 years.”
Walker, now 72, went on to a career as an Emmy Award-winning television movie producer. He published his memoirs in 1995.
Williams, also now 72, rejuvenated the Bulls, which more than doubled their attendance figures under his watch. He left in 1973 to become the GM in Atlanta for one year before taking the reins in Philadelphia, where he remained for 12 seasons. His fingerprints are all over the Sixers teams that advanced to four NBA finals and won the championship in 1983, the most recent in team history. He later went on to co-found the Orlando Magic and is currently their senior vice president.
Williams and his wife, Ruth, have 19 children, including 14 they adopted. He is undergoing chemotherapy treatments for an aggressive bone marrow cancer.
Williams and Walker saw their forever intertwined legacies come full circle just a few months ago.
“This past September, I was honored with the John Bunn lifetime achievement award by the Hall of Fame,” Williams said. “And who gets inducted into the Hall of Fame that same day? None other than Chet Walker – after all these years. And it was richly deserved.”
“It was a happy ending that occurred for both of us,” Walker said.