NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton dead at 71 after battle with cancer

 

Bill Walton, the Hall of Fame center and two-time NBA champion, is dead at 71 years old after a battle with cancer, the NBA announced Monday. 

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver issued a statement regarding Walton’s death on Monday. 

“Bill Walton was truly one of a kind,” Silver said. “As a Hall of Fame player, he redefined the center position. His unique all-around skills made him a dominant force at UCLA and led to an NBA regular-season and Finals MVP, two NBA championships and a spot on the NBA’s 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams. Bill then translated his infectious enthusiasm and love for the game to broadcasting, where he delivered insightful and colorful commentary which entertained generations of basketball fans. But what I will remember most about him was his zest for life. He was a regular presence at league events – always upbeat, smiling ear to ear and looking to share his wisdom and warmth. I treasured our close friendship, envied his boundless energy and admired the time he took with every person he encountered.

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“As a cherished member of the NBA family for 50 years, Bill will be deeply missed by all those who came to know and love him,” Silver continued. “My heartfelt condolences to Bill’s wife, Lori; his sons, Adam, Nate, Luke and Chris; and his many friends and colleagues.”

As Silver mentions in his statement, Walton redefined the way centers played the game of basketball, as he dominated at UCLA under legendary head coach John Wooden. Walton, who could pass as well as score, which wasn’t common for a center at the time, won three straight national player of the year awards from 1972-74 before becoming the first overall pick in the 1974 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers. 

Walton’s impact on an NBA court was quick, as the Trail Blazers would go on to win the 1978 NBA Championship, where Walton was named Finals MVP and the league MVP for that season.

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Walton would have to wait almost another decade before he would capture his second NBA championship, this time playing for the Boston Celtics in what would be his final season in the league. 

Walton dealt with foot injuries throughout his time in the Association, as he missed four separate seasons because of it, including back-to-back from 1980-82. He also missed the 1978-79 season after winning MVP. 

Following his time in Portland, Walton moved on to the then-San Diego Clippers, where he spent four seasons including his final one when they moved to Los Angeles. He joined the Celtics for the 1985-86 season, helping them to the NBA title that year, where he was named the league’s Sixth Man of the Year as well.  

Walton finished his career averaging 13.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game over 468 contests. He was named to the 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams for the NBA as well. 

Following his Hall of Fame career, “Big Red” got into broadcasting and his charismatic personality that was seen on and off the court filled the homes of many during games where he was wearing the headset. 

Walton’s color commentary was exceptional, as he would always keep viewers – and his play-by-play partners – on their toes with wild stories from his playing days, while providing excellent analysis and insight on the game at the same time. 

He initially joined CBS in 1990, and then he was calling games for NBC and the Clippers up until 2002 when he joined ESPN. 

Walton spent 2002 to 2009 broadcasting games for ESPN before eventually leaving, citing back problems that dated to an injury he suffered in college. He underwent back surgery and would return courtside to call Sacramento Kings games part-time for two seasons. 

ESPN welcomed back Walton in July 2012, when they announced alongside the Pac-12 Network that he would be a full-time analyst for their college basketball coverage. 

Walton was also a huge Grateful Dead fan, and he had his own satellite radio show called “One More Saturday Night” on Sirius Radio’s Jam On and XM Radio’s Grateful Dead channels.

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Walton was also a father who passed the game down to his children, including Luke Walton, who won back-to-back NBA Finals with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 and 2010 during his playing days. Luke currently serves as an assistant coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers after previously head coaching the Lakers (2016-19) and Kings (2019-22).

Chris Walton (San Diego State), Nate Walton (Princeton) and Adam Walton (LSU, Pomona College, College of Notre Dame) all played college basketball as well. 

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