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Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton Dies at 71; 2-Time Champ at UCLA and in NBA

Basketball icon Bill Walton, who played a crucial role in leading the UCLA Bruins to two national championships before securing two NBA titles, has passed away at 71 following a long battle with cancer. Walton passed away on Monday with his loved ones by his side, according to his family.

“Bill Walton was genuinely unique,” stated NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. Walton, who was the NBA MVP during the 1977–78 season, was also a key figure on the 50th and 75th-anniversary teams. This followed an illustrious college career where he claimed two NCAA championships at UCLA and earned national Player of the Year honors three times under the legendary coach John Wooden.

“His zest for life is what I’ll remember most about him,” Silver said. “He was a constant presence at league events, always cheerful, eager to share his wisdom and warmth. I cherished our friendship, admired his endless energy, and valued the time he took with everyone he met.

“All who knew and loved Bill, a cherished member of the NBA family for 50 years, will profoundly miss him.”

Standing at 6-foot-11, Walton was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993. His NBA career, which included stints with the Portland Trail Blazers, LA (formerly San Diego) Clippers, and Boston Celtics, lasted only 468 games due to persistent foot injuries. During those games, he maintained an impressive average of 13.3 points and 10.5 rebounds.

Despite these numbers not reaching record highs, his influence on the game was significant. “Bill Walton was a true legend—an extraordinary player, talented broadcaster, and vital part of the Blazers organization,” the Trail Blazers said. “Bill was more than basketball. Rip City, our organization, and everyone who knew him will always cherish and remember his vibrant personality, and they will all miss him terribly.

Walton’s most legendary performance was during the 1973 NCAA championship game against Memphis State, where he hit 21 out of 22 shots and led the Bruins to victory. UCLA coach Mick Cronin said, “It’s difficult to articulate what he has meant to UCLA and his impact on college basketball. His relentless energy, passion for the game, and candid nature defined his larger-than-life personality.

“As a devoted UCLA alumnus and broadcaster, he cherished spending time with our players, listening to their stories, and sharing his wisdom. As a coach, I found him to be honest, kind, and always well-intentioned. It’s hard to envision a season at Pauley Pavilion without him.”

Walton was a founding member of the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame in 1984, and the Bruins retired his jersey number 32 alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 33 in 1990. “My dear friend, fellow Bruin, and NBA rival Bill Walton passed away today,” Abdul-Jabbar posted. “And the world feels much heavier now. Bill was a fierce competitor on the court, but off the court, he was dedicated to making everyone around him happy.

After retiring from the NBA, Walton embarked on a successful broadcasting career despite initially doubting his ability due to a stutter. He excelled in this role, winning an Emmy and bringing enthusiasm and love for the game to his commentary.

"Bill Walton, legendary Basketball Hall of Famer and two-time champion, remembered for his impact on both college and professional basketball."
“Bill Walton, legendary Basketball Hall of Famer and two-time champion, remembered for his impact on both college and professional basketball.”

“Bill Walton redefined the center position as a Hall of Fame player,” Silver noted. “He then brought his contagious passion for the game to broadcasting, offering insightful and vibrant commentary that entertained generations of basketball fans.”

Walton joined NBA games in 2002, later focusing on college basketball in 2012. He also worked with CBS and NBC and was recognized as one of the top 50 sports broadcasters of all time by the American Sportscasters Association in 2009.

“Bill’s extraordinary spirit captivated audiences during his broadcasting career. Walton was known for his on-air tangents, often appearing in Grateful Dead T-shirts. He was an avid fan of the band and frequently referenced them, even recording satellite radio specials celebrating being a Deadhead. “In life, being self-conscious with red hair, a big nose, freckles, and a quirky face, and unable to speak fluently, I was incredibly shy,” Walton told The Oregonian in 2017. “Then, at 28, I learned to speak, which became my greatest accomplishment and everyone else’s biggest nightmare.”

The Pac-12 Conference, despite its decline due to college realignment, was another of Walton’s passions. He referred to it as the “Conference of Champions” and cherished it until the end. “It doesn’t get any better than this,” he once said on the broadcast, donning a tie-dyed T-shirt and a Hawaiian lei.

Walton even made The New York Times bestseller list with his memoir, “Back from the Dead,” which recounted his recovery from a debilitating back injury in 2008 that left him contemplating suicide due to the constant pain.

In his later years, Walton was vocal about issues that mattered to him, such as homelessness in his hometown of San Diego, urging city officials to create shelters for those in need.

Drafted first overall in the 1974 NBA draft by the Trail Blazers, Walton’s ten-season career in the NBA included two championships with the Blazers (1977) and Celtics (1986). He amassed 6,215 points, 4,923 rebounds, 1,034 blocks, and 1,590 assists. “Bill Walton was one of the most influential players of his era,” the Celtics said. “Walton could do it all, with exceptional timing, complete court vision, and excellent fundamentals, and he was one of the greatest passing big men in league history.”

Abu Bakar
Abu Bakar
Abubakar is a writer and digital marketing expert. Who has founded multiple blogs and successful businesses in the fields of digital marketing, software development. A full-service digital media agency that partners with clients to boost their business outcomes.


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