Bill Walton, a legendary basketball player and two-time champion at UCLA and in the NBA, passes away

Basketball icon Bill Walton, who guided the UCLA Bruins to two national titles before securing two championships in his illustrious NBA career, has passed away at the age of 71 following a long and courageous fight against cancer.

Walton passed away on Monday, with his family by his side, according to a statement released by the NBA.

“In a statement, NBA commissioner Adam Silver expressed his admiration for Bill Walton, acknowledging that he was truly a unique individual.”

He earned the title of NBA’s MVP during the 1977-78 season, and his remarkable achievements led to his inclusion in both the league’s 50th and 75th anniversary teams. Prior to his professional career, he enjoyed tremendous success in college basketball as a member of the UCLA Bruins, winning two championships and being recognized as a three-time national player of the year under the guidance of the legendary coach, John Wooden.

In his statement, Silver expressed that what he will always remember about him is his zest for life. He described him as a constant presence at league events, always radiating positivity with a big smile on his face and a desire to share his wisdom and warmth. Silver cherished their close friendship, envied his limitless energy, and admired the way he took the time to connect with every person he came across.

Bill’s presence in the NBA community for half a century has made him a beloved figure, and his absence will be keenly felt by all those who had the privilege of knowing and admiring him.

Bill Walton, a towering figure at 6-foot-11, left an indelible mark on the basketball world. In 1993, he was rightfully honored with a place in the prestigious Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Known for his larger-than-life personality, Walton’s impact extended beyond the court and into his successful broadcasting career.

His NBA career was cut short due to chronic foot injuries, playing a total of 468 games for the Portland Trail Blazers, LA Clippers (formerly known as the San Diego Clippers), and Boston Celtics. Throughout his career, he maintained an impressive double-double average of 13.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.

His impact on the game was immense, despite the fact that neither of those numbers is close to a record-breaking figure.

According to a statement from the Trail Blazers, Bill Walton was not only an exceptional player and talented broadcaster, but also a significant figure in their organization. They described him as a true legend and emphasized his larger-than-life presence. The organization expressed their deep appreciation for his upbeat and vibrant personality, and stated that he will be greatly missed by the team, Rip City, and everyone who had the opportunity to know him.

In the highly anticipated 1973 NCAA title matchup between UCLA and Memphis State, Bill Walton showcased his exceptional skills on the court. He delivered an outstanding performance by shooting an impressive 21-for-22 from the field, leading the Bruins to yet another national championship. This game stands as one of his most memorable and celebrated achievements in his basketball career.

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Walton was consistently fed the ball by the Bruins, and he continuously delivered an extraordinary performance that will be remembered for years to come.

According to UCLA coach Mick Cronin, it is extremely difficult to fully express the significance of his contributions to UCLA’s program and his immense influence on college basketball. He goes on to say that apart from his incredible achievements as a player, it is his tireless energy, passion for the game, and unwavering honesty that truly define his larger-than-life personality.

As a devoted UCLA alumnus and broadcaster, he thoroughly enjoyed being in the presence of our players, listening to their tales, and imparting his wisdom and guidance. As a coach, I found him to be sincere, compassionate, and genuinely caring. I will deeply miss him. It is difficult to fathom a season at Pauley Pavilion without his presence.

In 1984, Walton became an esteemed member of the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame. His remarkable contributions on the basketball court earned him the privilege of having his No. 32 jersey retired. He was not alone in this honor, as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (known as Lew Alcindor during his college years) also saw his No. 33 jersey retired. This momentous occasion took place in 1990, marking the first time men’s basketball jersey numbers were retired by the Bruins.

“I am deeply saddened by the passing of my dear friend, fellow Bruin, and NBA rival Bill Walton,” Abdul-Jabbar shared on X. “The weight of the world feels heavier today. Bill was not only a formidable player on the court, but also a compassionate individual off the court. He always went above and beyond to ensure the happiness of those around him.”

“He truly embodied excellence amongst us all.”

After bidding farewell to his NBA career, Walton ventured into the world of broadcasting, a path he never believed he could excel in due to his occasional struggles with a pronounced stutter.

As it turns out, he was also incredibly talented in that area – Walton had won an Emmy award for his work.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver praised the legendary player for his impact both on and off the court. “He brought a new dimension to the center position with his incredible skills,” Silver said. “But what truly made him special was his passion for the game, which he carried over to his successful broadcasting career. His commentary was always full of wisdom and entertainment, captivating basketball fans for generations.”

Bill Walton initially joined ESPN and ABC in 2002 as a primary analyst for NBA games. However, in 2012, he transitioned to covering college basketball. Prior to his time at ESPN and ABC, Walton had also worked for CBS and NBC. In recognition of his immense contributions to the field, he was honored as one of the top 50 sports broadcasters of all time by the American Sportscasters Association in 2009.

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According to a statement from ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro, Bill Walton, a renowned player and captivating personality, valued every moment of his remarkable life. Pitaro described him as “the luckiest guy in the world,” but those who had the privilege of interacting with him were the fortunate ones. Walton was known for his extraordinary generosity and willingness to make time for others.

Bill’s unique charisma and passion for broadcasting left a lasting impact on audiences. ESPN expresses its heartfelt condolences to Bill’s loved ones, including the Walton family.

Walton’s on-air tangents endeared him to viewers. He had a penchant for donning Grateful Dead T-shirts during his appearances, showcasing his deep admiration for the band. Walton frequently referenced the band and even recorded satellite radio specials that celebrated the essence of being a Deadhead.

“At one point in my life, I was extremely self-conscious about my red hair, big nose, freckles, and nerdy-looking face. I was so shy that I hardly spoke a word,” shared Walton with The Oregonian in 2017. “But when I turned 28, something changed, and I learned how to speak. It has become the most significant achievement of my life, although it may have been everyone else’s worst nightmare.”

The Pac-12 Conference, which has essentially dissolved in many ways due to college realignment, was another one of his passions. He fondly referred to it as the “Conference of Champions” and cherished it until the very end.

During an ESPN broadcast, he expressed his enthusiasm, wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt and adorning a Hawaiian lei around his neck, by saying, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

In his memoir, “Back from the Dead,” Walton achieved great success as it made it to The New York Times’ bestseller list. The memoir recounts the challenging journey Walton endured after a severe back injury in 2008, which led him to contemplate taking his own life due to the relentless pain. It vividly describes how he dedicated years to his recovery process.

During his last years, Walton expressed his concerns about the issues that held great significance for him, including the predicament of homelessness in his hometown of San Diego.

Bill Walton, who was selected as the top pick in the 1974 NBA draft by the Trail Blazers, had an impressive 10-year career in the NBA. Throughout his time in the league, he achieved great success, winning championships with both the Blazers in 1977 and the Celtics in 1986. In total, Walton recorded remarkable statistics, including 6,215 points, 4,923 rebounds, 1,034 blocks, and 1,590 assists.

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According to the Celtics, Bill Walton had a significant impact on the game during his era. The team stated that Walton possessed a wide range of skills, including impeccable timing, exceptional court vision, and solid fundamentals. Additionally, he was regarded as one of the best passing big men in the history of the league.

He was a two-time All-Star, topping the NBA in rebounding and blocks in 1977. He also earned the title of the league’s Sixth Man of the Year in 1986, making him one of the few players, alongside James Harden, to have won both the MVP and the Sixth Man award.

“Bill Walton was the trailblazer when it comes to being a highly skilled center,” highlighted Magic Johnson, a respected member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. “He possessed an extraordinary range of abilities, from his impeccable jump shots to his astounding passing skills. Bill’s basketball acumen was unparalleled, making him one of the most intelligent players to have graced the sport. Not only was he a tremendous ambassador for both college basketball and the NBA, but his absence will be deeply felt.”

Walton’s name will forever be associated with UCLA’s dominant era.

“Bill Walton’s passing is a heartbreaking loss. He was truly one of the legends in UCLA basketball history,” expressed former Notre Dame coach and current ESPN college basketball analyst, Digger Phelps, on social media. Phelps further added, “We shared a strong friendship throughout the years, and his absence will be deeply felt.”

In 1970, he joined UCLA, back when freshmen were not allowed to play on the varsity team. Once he got the chance to play for Wooden, the Bruins became an unstoppable force for over two years. Walton’s UCLA teams achieved an incredible feat by winning their first 73 games, making up the majority of the Bruins’ extraordinary 88-game winning streak.

In his first two seasons at UCLA, he led the team to an impressive record of 30-0 each year. Throughout his entire varsity career, he maintained an outstanding record of 86-4.

In his 1993 Hall of Fame speech, Walton acknowledged the profound impact his teammates had on his basketball career, stating, “They turned me into a much better player than I could have ever become on my own.” He further emphasized the significance of the team dynamic in basketball, expressing, “The concept of team has always fascinated me the most. If I had pursued individual success or chosen an individual sport, like tennis or golf, my passion would have been different.”

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