Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton Dies at 71

Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton Dies at 71

Sportscaster and former NBA player Bill Walton stands as the American national anthem is performed before broadcasting the Pac-12 Coast-to-Coast Challenge between the Texas Longhorns and the Stanford Cardinal at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 19, 2021. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Ross Kelly

Ross Kelly

5/27/2024

Updated: 5/27/2024

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Bill Walton, a Hall of Fame basketball player, died at 71 years old on Monday after a battle with cancer.
The National Basketball Association’s commissioner, Adam Silver, released a statement on Walton’s passing.
“Bill Walton was truly one of a kind. As a Hall of Fame player, he redefined the center position,” the statement read. “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.”
Walton’s basketball career, from college to the pros, is nearly unparalleled when it comes to accomplishments. He won two national championships while at UCLA, was a three-time national Player of the Year, and a two-time Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. While with the Bruins, he was part of an NCAA-record 88-game win streak that stretched from 1971–74. UCLA posted an 86–4 record during Walton’s three years of playing, as freshmen were ineligible to play varsity at the time.
Current UCLA men’s basketball coach Mick Cronin remarked on what Walton means to the basketball program in a statement.
“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,” the statement read. “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. Our athletics department, our team and this university will miss him dearly.”
After college, Walton was drafted first overall in the 1974 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers, a franchise which had just joined the NBA in 1970. After dealing with injuries in his first few years, Walton made an immediate impact and helped Portland reach the postseason for the first time in 1977. The Trail Blazers (49–33) didn’t just make the playoffs as they would go on to win the NBA championship in their first postseason appearance, defeating three 50-win teams along the way.
Walton, who led the NBA with 14.4 rebounds and 3.2 blocks during that regular season, en route to a runner-up finish in the MVP award, didn’t have to settle for second place when it came to the NBA Finals MVP award. He won that award, thanks to a series-clinching Game 6 performance where he had 20 points, 23 rebounds, eight blocks, and seven assists.
Member of the Boston Celtics 1986 Championship team Bill Walton is honored at halftime of the game between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat at TD Garden in Boston, Mass., on April 13, 2016. (Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

Member of the Boston Celtics 1986 Championship team Bill Walton is honored at halftime of the game between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat at TD Garden in Boston, Mass., on April 13, 2016. (Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

The following season, Walton would claim the regular season Most Valuable Player award as he averaged 18.9 points, 13.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 2.5 blocks. However, injury struck and severely limited Walton in the playoffs as Portland was unable to successfully defend its title. Injuries would be a recurring theme during Walton’s career as he missed four entire seasons over a 14-year span due to various foot ailments. He played in only 468 of 1,148 possible regular season games, meaning he missed nearly 60 percent of the possible contests.
Walton was able to finish his career on a high note despite the multiple setbacks as he was a bench player on the 1985–86 Boston Celtics team that many consider to be the greatest team in league history. Playing with the likes of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish, Walton was named the Sixth Man of the Year that season, becoming the first player ever to win both that award and the MVP award. The Celtics would win the 1986 NBA championship, making Walton one of the few players in the history of the sport to win multiple NCAA championships and multiple NBA championships.
For his efforts, Walton was inducted into both the National Collegiate Hall of Fame for his amateur success, and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for what he did as a professional. He was also named to both the NBA’s 50th Anniversary Team in 1996 and the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team in 2021.
After his playing days were over, Walton transitioned into broadcasting, both at the pro and college levels. For someone who had so much success on the court, it comes as no surprise that Walton was also successful courtside as he won an Emmy Award for “Best Live Television Sports Telecast.”
Walton had four sons, all of whom followed in his footsteps as all four played college basketball with one, Luke, playing in the NBA. When Luke Walton won NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 and 2010, it made the Waltons the only father-son duo in league history to have both won multiple NBA championships.
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Ross Kelly

Ross Kelly

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Ross Kelly is a sports journalist who has been published by ESPN, CBS and USA Today. He has also done statistical research for Stats Inc. and Synergy Sports Technology. A graduate of LSU, Ross resides in Houston.

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