Bill Walton is tall.
So is Chewbacca.
Walton once had long hair and a shaggy beard.
Chewbacca has hair all over his body.
Walton has a son named Luke.
Chewbacca has a friend named Luke.
Walton was terrific with a basketball.
Chewbacca is quite handy with a blaster, which starts with the same letter as “basketball.”
Yep, there’s no doubt about it — Walton and Chewbacca are basically one and the same.
OK, maybe not. But it doesn’t seem to be too much of a stretch to believe that the basketball Hall of Famer turned beloved broadcaster may have provided inspiration for the beloved character from the “Star Wars” movies.
Walton made the claim Thursday night during ESPN’s coverage of Oregon’s game at USC, where the movie franchise’s creator, George Lucas, once attended film school. Here’s Walton’s highly entertaining exchange with broadcast partner Dave Pasch, which includes Walton’s not-quite-correct pronunciation of Chewbacca.
Pasch: “Is it true that you were in the mix to play Chewbacca?”
Walton: “… Chewybacca is modeled after me.”
Pasch: “I heard that you were in the running for that, that you were being considered to play the role. I’m being dead serious.”
Walton: “You’re always serious, that’s one of your problems, that you don’t have fun with your life.”
Pasch: “But you’re not answering the question.”
Walton: “George Lucas is as cool as they get and I remember the night that George, Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar], Bill Russell and me, we were all up at San Francisco at a big fundraiser for the Martin Luther King memorial …”
Pasch: “So since you’re not answering the question, I’m just gonna assume it’s true.”
Walton: “What was the question? I auditioned for Chewybacca and they said no but we’re going to model the character after you.”
Pasch: “You were in ‘Ghostbusters’ and people didn’t know that, so again I think there’s a great chance that this is a true story.”
The Times was unable to reach Walton nor anyone in Lucas’ camp for this story.
Walton won two national titles at UCLA under legendary coach John Wooden and was a two-time NBA champion with the Portland Trail Blazers and Boston Celtics. The 6-foot-11 Walton also was the NBA Finals MVP in 1977 and league MVP in 1978.
Chewbacca is a Wookiee from the planet Kashyyyk. His listed size has fluctuated over the years, but he’s generally been in the 7½-foot range. He’s the co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon, a brave ally of the Rebel Alliance and a loyal friend to Han Solo.
(He has also been referred to as “fuzzball” and a “walking carpet,” terms that could have applied to Walton during various points in the 1970s).
Walton does have several film credits listed on his IMDB page, including “Ghostbusters” (he briefly appears in the background during the closing credits of the 1984 film). But that page, of course, wouldn’t include a role he tried out for and did not get.
The late Peter Mayhew, who stood at 7-3, played Chewbacca in all of the “Star Wars” movies through “The Force Awakens” in 2015.
As fun as it would be to believe that the character was inspired by Walton, alas, Lucas seems to have debunked that claim in the past.
“My original inspiration for Chewbacca was my dog, Indiana. She was the one that sat there with me as I was writing the script all the time, she’d ride in the car with me and be my co-pilot,” Lucas said in “The Characters of Star Wars” featurette on the 2004 “Star Wars Trilogy” DVD box set.
“And when she’d sit in the car, she would be as tall as I am. She was an Alaskan Malamute, she was very big — I thought that was a funny image. And as I was looking for a kind of alien co-pilot for Han Solo, I immediately thought of Indiana.”