Almost 40 years ago, inside an apartment complex on the west end of Montreal, Dwight Walton was in his living room watching Canada Basketball.
Walton was witnessing Canada finish fourth at the 1984 Summer Olympics Games in Los Angeles — the third-best finish in Canadian history — when he turned to his mother Adele and made a promise to her.
“I said ‘Mom, I’m going to be at the next Olympics,’” said Walton. “My mother looked at me and said it’s always great to dream, but you have to work hard if you want to accomplish things.”
Those words stuck with Walton as he looked to make true of his promise. Up to that point, Walton was a rising basketball star that made a name for himself at Wagar High School in Côte-Saint-Luc, Quebec.
The 19-year-old was playing at a powerhouse school in Montreal — Dawson College — competing for a Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association championship and earning All-Canadian honours as he looked to join the growing number of Montreal talent to represent Canada at the Olympics.
It was during Walton’s senior year at Dawson that he would come to learn about legendary Canadian coach Jack Donohue travelling nationwide to provinces, hosting identification camps in hopes of finding the next best talent to compete at the Canadian senior men’s level and earn a chance to represent their country.
“I didn't know who was going to be at this thing I just knew there was going to be a whole bunch of good players at this identification camp because we all wanted to play for the national team,” said Walton.
Varouj Gurunlian, Walton’s head coach at Dawson, knew there was a chance his star player could be invited to the national team. Gurunlian himself was one of the best to come out of Montreal and was selected to play for Donohue at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. With that in mind, Gurunlian tailored his team’s playbook at Dawson to what he knew Donohue was running with the Canadian national team to help prepare Walton.
Amongst the 40 players that attended the camp, it was Walton getting interviewed in the local newspapers of the Montreal Gazette and Montreal Star, while earning an invite to Ottawa to participate in the main camp for the national team.
At the three-day weekend camp, Walton was pulled to the side by coach Donohue before the final day of tryouts. Walton was well aware of Donohue’s legacy as the high school coach of one of the greatest players of all-time Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He had no clue what he wanted to tell him but it’d turn into a conservation Walton would never forget.
The Canadian coach was welcoming Walton to the roster selected to be part of the Canadian team headed to the 1986 FIBA World Championship in Spain. He’d later reveal to the Montreal native how after scouring through 10 provinces for more than a month, Walton was the best player he would come to discover.
“I tried to act like I had been there before,” said Walton, with a chuckle. “I was smiling from ear to ear inside. He noticed it and I think he appreciated the excitement, the joy that I had that I was going to one day wear the colours of our country.”
Dononue let him sit out for the first few scrimmages of the final day of camp so Walton could fully soak in the moment and appreciate what he had just accomplished.
For roughly a decade, Walton would represent Canada Basketball at every major international competition from the Pan American Games, FISU World University Games, the world championships and most notably the Olympics.
In what was a dream come true for Walton, he couldn’t help but think back to the promise he made to his mother Adele just a few years prior. She was his number one fan, proud to see her son on the world stage as it inspired Walton to only do right by his family and country. Every chance Adele could, she referred to Walton as “My son, the Olympian.”
“It confirmed that dreams can come true, but in order for a dream to come true, you have to work for it,” said Walton.
“I did realize that I was representing more than just myself as a basketball player, I was representing my country, my family, my church, all of that.”
At 23 years old, Walton was one of the youngest on a Canadian team that featured Jay Triano and Eli Pasquale. He remembers the goosebumps that ran through his entire body during the layup lines before their opening game against Brazil.
Walton was joining an exclusive list of players from Montreal, alongside Wayne Yearwood, to play for Canada that included Stewart Granger, the first Black Canadian drafted in the NBA, Hall of Famer Bill Wennington, Rick Hunger, Ron Crevier and his coach and mentor Gurunlian.
“He was a role model for most of us from Montreal. He was one of the first just showing the path and that it was possible,” said Toronto Raptors forward and Montreal native Chris Boucher. “They paved the way… it has to start somewhere and they did that for us.”
After his Olympic experience, Walton continued his collegiate career at the NCAA Division I level at Siena College before transferring and becoming a three-time All-American at the NCAA Divison II program, the Florida Institute of Technology.
Years later he’d be inducted into the school’s hall of fame and followed that up by playing 10 years professionally overseas in Israel and Switzerland before returning home to end his playing career at 40 years old with the Montreal Matrix.
Since hanging up his laces, Walton remains heavily involved with the game of basketball, officiating and coaching the next generation of talent coming from Montreal where he now serves as an assistant coach at Concordia University.
Over the last decade, he has been known as a regular basketball analyst across Montreal radio stations and is part of the broadcast team that calls games for the Montreal Alliance of the Canadian Elite Basketball League.
While reminiscing on his time with Canada Basketball, it’s the rise and the explosion of Quebec basketball from when Walton first played that keeps him smiling.
“To have all these guys that are in the NBA right now, having the success and just the overall collection of talent from Canada… it’s great to see how far we’ve come since I played."
“That’s why I consider myself to be a very, very proud alumni of Canada Basketball.”