Walker walks out
Hours after announcing his resignation as Sonics president and CEO, Wally Walker spent Thursday night watching the team that he has been...
Seattle Times staff reporter
SPOKANE — In the end, Wally Walker came to grips with the polarizing legacy he created.
Sensing that his presence was keeping the team from moving forward and making good on new owner Clay Bennett's intent to secure a new arena deal, Walker resigned his position as president and CEO on Thursday, removing the lone holdover to the previous ownership.
"It's time," said Walker, 52. "It's been time. I'll be supportive in any way I can because at the end of the day, it ain't about me or the new ownership or anybody, it's about what happens to keep the team in Seattle.
"You've got a new ownership that wants to establish itself in a way of doing things. It makes no sense for them to have a vestige of the previous ownership with all they've got ahead of them. I just think it's the right thing all around."
Walker had been with the Sonics for 19 years. He rejoined the franchise in 1994 as a general manager and six years ago was a catalyst in the organization of The Basketball Club of Seattle, which purchased the Sonics in 2001.
With Bennett poised to officially take control of the team Tuesday, Walker said he realized that there was no longer a role for him after five years as a part-owner.
When the sale was announced July 18, he wanted to remain with the club as an advisor because of his extensive knowledge of the local political scene. However, after a few conversations with Bennett, it became apparent that the new ownership had other plans.
Age: 52 Personal: Bradford, Pa., native is member of Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame and named Lancaster County's greatest athlete of the 20th century. Lives in Seattle with wife Linda, son Joseph and daughters Sarah and Molly.
College: Virginia, which retired his No. 41 jersey
NBA career: 6-7 forward was first-round draft pick in 1976 by Portland. Played eight NBA seasons, averaging 7.0 points and 3.1 rebounds. Reserve on two NBA title teams — in Portland (1977) and Seattle (1979). Played five seasons in Seattle.
After basketball: Earned MBA from Stanford in 1987. Spent seven years with Goldman Sachs, where he was a financial analyst, but moonlighted as color commentator for Pac-10 and Sonics broadcasts.
With Sonics: Named general manager July 21, 1994, and in his seven seasons team won 65.1 percent of games. Named club president and CEO in April 2001, was in ownership group led by Howard Schultz that bought the Sonics and Storm, and was on board of directors.
"At the time of the sale, I said it may be better for me to just go somewhere, to go away, but I'll be happy to help in anyway that makes sense," Walker said. "And for now, this is what makes sense. Everyone is just going with their instincts. If asked, I'll try to pitch in, but that's just on an as-needed basis."
Hours after announcing his resignation, Walker spent Thursday night watching the Sonics in a 111-107 overtime victory against Golden State at the Spokane Arena. He notified the players afterward that Tuesday would be his final day.
"He's been around for a long time and all of us are here because of him," guard Ray Allen said. "We have to celebrate the fact that he brought us together and we have to make him right. If we win with the squad that we have, then he was right."
It's hardly a coincidence that Walker's last day is the same Bennett officially assumes control of the Sonics and Storm.
"Everyone was evaluating what would work," Walker said. "How do you characterize what the right catalyst was? At the end of the day, it's better. The organization is in a great place."
A team source said there is no timetable on naming Walker's replacement. Still, Bennett is believed to have put together a short list of candidates.
At the NBA Board of Governors meeting Tuesday, Bennett said he has no plans to become Sonics president and is expected to hire someone to run the business side of the franchise in Seattle. A short list of in-house candidates includes executive vice presidents Danny Barth and Terry McLaughlin. Barth is the club's chief financial officer.
General Manager Rick Sund declined to comment on Walker or his own future, although it appears as if Sund will be retained as GM for the rest of the season. He has a year remaining on this contract.
Walker became a polarizing figure during his 12-year tenure in the front office, which began in 1994 when he was hired as general manager. Even though his teams won more than any GM in team history, he's blamed for breaking up the 1996 squad that played in the NBA Finals, overpaying Vin Baker and signing Jim McIlvaine to a bloated contract.
What usually goes unnoticed is that he re-signed George Karl in 1995 after the Sonics' consecutive first-round playoff defeats, his trade for Hersey Hawkins as the final piece of the '96 Western Conference championship team and the Storm's WNBA championship.
"I want to express my deep appreciation to Wally for his many valuable contributions to the Sonics and Storm over an impressive 19-year career," Bennett said in a statement. "We will always consider him a part of the family and know he will share in what we believe will be a great future for the organization."
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org