Basketball legend Bill Walton dies at 71

LOS ANGELES, CA – Bill Walton, the celebrated basketball luminary known for his dynamic presence on and off the court, has passed away at 71 following a valiant struggle with cancer, according to a family statement circulated by the NBA. An illustrious player whose passion remained palpable long after his retirement, Walton succumbed to the disease on Monday surrounded by family.

As one of basketball’s most distinguished athletes, Walton was acknowledged not only for his tangible contributions to the sport but also for his boundless enthusiasm and dedication to the game. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver expressed his profound admiration for Walton’s vibrant character, recalling the joy and wisdom he shared at every opportunity. The loss of Walton, an integral figure in the basketball community for half a century, reverberates deeply across the league and its fans.

In college, the two-time NCAA champion dazzled under the tutelage of John Wooden at UCLA, securing three national player of the year awards. Walton was later enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993 for his meritorious achievements on the court. Despite his intermittent bouts with chronic foot injuries, his professional basketball career remains distinguished by an enviable record and lasting influence, symbolized by a remarkable average of 13.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game over 468 NBA games.

His tenure with the Portland Trail Blazers, LA Clippers, and Boston Celtics was punctuated by unrelenting excellence and an MVP title in the 1977-78 season. Following his playing days, Walton transcended his role as an athlete to become an Emmy-awarded broadcaster, a journey marked by significant accomplishments despite his initial struggle with a pronounced stutter.

Walton lent his unique voice and perspectives to NBA and college basketball broadcasts, earning recognition as one of the top sports broadcasters by the American Sportscasters Association. His vibrant commentaries and unpredictable tangents, often woven with references to his favorite band, the Grateful Dead, enthralled audiences, making the transition from the hardwood to the broadcasting booth seamless.

Recollections of Walton’s spirited personality and authenticity resonate beyond his professional accomplishments, as expressed by Mick Cronin, current UCLA coach, who hailed Walton’s genuine enthusiasm and fervent allegiance to UCLA’s basketball program. Walton’s affinity for the Pac-12 Conference, which he frequently dubbed the “Conference of Champions,” embodied his voracious love for the sport and the institutions that fostered his career.

Walton’s storytelling extended to his literature, with “Back from the Dead,” a memoir, landing on The New York Times bestseller list. His personal narrative encompassed the tribulations of a severe back injury and his consequent determination to overcome despair.

The towering 6-foot-11 center, a two-time NBA champion, leaves behind a legacy that intertwines his identity with the very heartbeat of basketball, from his historic NCAA championship performance for UCLA to altering the very style of play attributed to the center position. He remains, for many admirers and athletes, a paragon of basketball mastery and a beloved envoy of the sport’s enduring appeal.