Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton dies at 71

KABC logo
Monday, May 27, 2024
Hall of Famer Bill Walton, 71, dies of cancer
Two-time NBA champion and basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton has passed away following a prolonged battle with cancer, the NBA announced on Monday.

NEW YORK -- Two-time NBA champion and Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton has passed away following a prolonged battle with cancer, the NBA announced on Monday.

Walton died surrounded by his loved ones, his family said. He is survived by wife Lori and sons Adam, Nate, Chris and Luke - a former NBA player and now a coach.

"Bill Walton was truly one of a kind. As a Hall of Fame player, he redefined the center position," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement.

Walton, who was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1993, was larger than life, on the court and off. His NBA career - disrupted by chronic foot injuries - lasted only 468 games with Portland, the San Diego and eventually Los Angeles Clippers and Boston. He averaged 13.3 points and 10.5 rebounds in those games, neither of those numbers exactly record-setting.

His most famous game was the 1973 NCAA title game, UCLA against Memphis, in which he shot an incredible 21 for 22 from the field and led the Bruins to another national championship.

"One of my guards said, 'Let's try something else," Wooden told The Associated Press in 2008 for a 35th anniversary retrospective on that game.

Wooden's response during that timeout: "Why? If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

They kept giving the ball to Walton, and he kept delivering in a performance for the ages.

bill walton
FILE - UCLA center Bill Walton (32) shoots for two of his record 44 points against Memphis State in the NCAA cchampionship in St. Louis, March 26, 1973.
AP Photo/file

"It's very hard to put into words what he has meant to UCLA's program, as well as his tremendous impact on college basketball," UCLA coach Mick Cronin said Monday. "Beyond his remarkable accomplishments as a player, it's his relentless energy, enthusiasm for the game and unwavering candor that have been the hallmarks of his larger than life personality.

"As a passionate UCLA alumnus and broadcaster, he loved being around our players, hearing their stories and sharing his wisdom and advice. For me as a coach, he was honest, kind and always had his heart in the right place. I will miss him very much. It's hard to imagine a season in Pauley Pavilion without him."

The first overall pick of the 1974 NBA draft by the Portland Trail Blazers, the 6-foot-11 Walton played 10 seasons in the NBA, winning championships with the Blazers (1977) and the Boston Celtics (1986). He averaged a double-double over his career, totaling 6,215 points (13.3 per game), 4,923 rebounds (10.5 per game), 1,034 blocks (2.2 per game) and 1,590 assists.

A two-time All-Star, he led the NBA in rebounding and blocks in 1977 and was the league's Sixth Man of the Year in 1986.

After his NBA career, Walton turned to broadcasting where he entertained generations of basketball fans.

Walton originally joined ESPN in 2002 as a lead analyst for NBA games before shifting to college basketball in 2012. He was named one of the top 50 sports broadcasters of all-time by the American Sportscasters Association in 2009.

Walton was an Emmy winner.

"In life, being so self-conscious, red hair, big nose, freckles and goofy, nerdy-looking face and can't talk at all. I was incredibly shy and never said a word," Walton told The Oregonian newspaper in 2017. "Then, when I was 28 I learned how to speak. It's become my greatest accomplishment of my life and everybody else's biggest nightmare."

The last part of that was just Walton hyperbole. He was beloved for his on-air tangents.

He sometimes appeared on-air in Grateful Dead T-shirts; Walton was a huge fan of the band and referenced it often, even sometimes recording satellite radio specials celebrating what it meant to be a "Deadhead."

And the Pac-12 Conference, which has basically evaporated in many ways now because of college realignment, was another of his many loves. He always referred to it as the "Conference of Champions" and loved it all the way to the end.

"It doesn't get any better than this," he once said on a broadcast, tie-dyed T-shirt on, a Hawaiian lei around his neck.

"What I will remember most about him was his zest for life," Silver said. "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."


Information from the NBA, ESPN and the Associated Press