‘One of a kind’ NBA champion and broadcaster Bill Walton dies at 71 | NBA

Basketball legend and twice NBA champion Bill Walton has passed away from cancer at the age of 71, the NBA revealed on Monday. “Bill Walton was genuinely unique,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver remarked in a statement. “As a Hall of Fame athlete, he redefined the center role. His extraordinary comprehensive skills rendered him a dominant figure at UCLA and contributed to an NBA regular-season and Finals MVP, two NBA championships, and inclusion in the NBA’s 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams.”

Walton had a stellar college stint with UCLA, where he secured two national championships before being drafted No 1 overall by Portland in the 1974 NBA draft. He proceeded to clinch a title with the Trail Blazers in 1977 and was the league MVP in 1978. However, his professional career was hindered by foot issues and, although he claimed another title with the Boston Celtics in 1986, he frequently struggled to remain entirely healthy. Despite these obstacles, he is regarded as one of the finest centers in NBA history.

Post-retirement from playing, he established himself as a sharp and captivating Emmy-winning announcer. The 6ft 11in Walton mentioned he had not always been sociable. “In life, being extremely self-conscious, red hair, big nose, freckles, awkward, nerdy-looking face and unable to speak at all. I was exceedingly shy and rarely spoke,” Walton shared with the Oregonian in 2017. “Then, at 28, I learned how to speak. It’s become my greatest achievement in life and everyone else’s biggest nightmare.”

Silver mentioned he regarded Walton as a close associate. “Bill conveyed his infectious fervor and adoration for the game to broadcasting, where he provided insightful and vivid commentary which amused generations of basketball enthusiasts,” Silver stated on Monday. “Yet, what I will cherish most about him was his zest for living. He was a constant presence at league events – perpetually positive, smiling broadly and eager to impart his knowledge and warmth. I valued our deep friendship, admired his limitless vitality and respected the time he devoted to every individual he met.”

Bill Walton in action for Portland against Denver in 1978. Photograph: Jack Smith/AP

Walton often delivered his best performances under pressure. He was the NBA finals MVP during Portland’s championship-winning season and his most notable game for UCLA occurred when they secured the national championship against Memphis in 1973. In that match, he scored 21 out of 22 field goals. “It’s incredibly challenging to express what he has contributed to UCLA’s program, as well as his significant influence on college basketball,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin stated Monday. “Beyond his impressive achievements as a player, it’s his unwavering energy, fervor for the game, and uncompromising honesty that have defined his larger-than-life personality.”

“As a devoted UCLA alumnus and broadcaster, he cherished being around our players, listening to their stories, and offering his insights and advice. For me as a coach, he was straightforward, kind, and always had his heart in the right place. I will miss him dearly.”

Walton also had a deep appreciation for music, especially the Grateful Dead, whose songs he frequently quoted during broadcasts. He also claimed to have attended over 800 of the band’s concerts. His son Luke also had a prosperous basketball career, securing two NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 and 2010. He is survived by Luke and his three other sons, Adam, Nate, and Chris as well as his spouse, Lori.

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