Bill Walton, Basketball Hall Of Famer And Colorful Commentator Passes Away At 71

Following his retirement from basketball, Walton embarked on a prosperous broadcasting journey, providing commentary for NBA and NCAA basketball games. His most recent stint was with ESPN.

Bill Walton, the legendary basketball Hall of Fame center renowned for his success at UCLA, where he secured two national titles, as well as his triumphs with the NBA teams in Portland and Boston, passed away on Monday after a lengthy struggle with cancer, as confirmed by the National Basketball Association. At the age of 71, Walton’s family was by his side at the time of his passing, according to the NBA statement.

“Bill Walton was truly one of a kind,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “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 brought his contagious enthusiasm and passion for the game to broadcasting, offering perceptive and vibrant commentary that captivated basketball fans across generations.

“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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Walton’s Towering Legacy

Walton’s journey commenced at UCLA, where the towering 6-foot-11 red-headed center shone under the guidance of the renowned coach John Wooden. Together, they propelled the Bruins to consecutive national championships in 1972 and 1973, achieving flawless 30-0 seasons. Their remarkable success included an unprecedented 88-game winning streak, which remains unmatched in men’s college basketball history. Additionally, Walton earned recognition as a three-time national college player of the year and three-time All-American during his tenure at UCLA.

However, despite their shared achievements on the court, Walton and Wooden found themselves at odds over various cultural and political matters. Their disagreements, notably concerning Walton’s long hair and his vocal opposition to the Vietnam War, underscored the complexities of their relationship beyond basketball.

The skilled big man renowned for his nifty hook shot was selected as the #1 pick in the 1974 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers. He steered the team to its inaugural NBA championship in 1977, where he earned the distinction of NBA Finals Most Valuable Player during those playoffs. The following season, he secured the NBA’s regular season MVP award.

However, his trajectory was marred by a string of injuries that hampered his career. Despite his talent, he encountered setbacks and departed Portland to join the San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers from 1979 to 1985. Unfortunately, he struggled to replicate the success of his earlier years, grappling with persistent foot and knee injuries.

Subsequently, he found a new home with the Boston Celtics, where he experienced a career resurgence. In 1986, he was honored with the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award, serving as a dependable backup to stars Robert Parish and Kevin McHale. Together, they clinched the NBA title in 1986, marking the second championship victory of Walton’s career.

A Dunk Into The Broadcasting Career

Following his retirement from basketball, Walton embarked on a prosperous broadcasting journey, providing commentary for NBA and NCAA basketball games. His most recent stint was with ESPN.

Renowned for his love of the Grateful Dead, Walton frequently sported tie-dye shirts and seamlessly incorporated references to the band into his broadcasts. His coverage of the game was characterized by a palpable sense of joy and wonder.

However, Walton grappled with the lasting effects of his numerous injuries. In a candid revelation on the CNN podcast “The Axe Files” in 2016, he disclosed that debilitating back pain had pushed him to contemplate suicide in 2008.

“When you’re in that space, more people commit suicide from back pain than from any other malady. It’s just overwhelming. It destroys every aspect of your life. It destroys every aspect of all the people around you,” he said.

“And here’s this situation where I had nothing, but then I had this surgery and I’m all better. I take no medication. I have no pain. I go full speed ahead now. I’ve never been busier. I’ve never been happier. I haven’t been this healthy since I was 13 years old. In all these years I never thought that I’d be free of pain, I never thought that I’d be happy in love, and I have both of those today. I am the luckiest guy on earth.”

“On behalf of everyone with the UCLA men’s basketball program, we are deeply saddened to learn of Bill Walton’s passing,” Mick Cronin, UCLA men’s basketball coach, said in a statement.

“My deepest condolences go out to his family and loved ones. 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. 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.”

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