KU Jayhawks join rest of basketball world in mourning Bill Walton’s death at 71

The death of former UCLA basketball and NBA great Bill Walton — on Monday, at the age of 71, after a prolonged battle with cancer — has sparked widespread reaction across the world of sports.

On Monday afternoon, Kansas Jayhawks men’s hoops coach Bill Self and a pair of former Jayhawk basketball players spoke about what Walton’s legacy means to the game.

“This is a sad day for the basketball world,” Self, KU’s 21st-year head coach, told The Star. “Bill Walton was an all-time great player and a better guy. He was very good to me and the Kansas program. He always took time to promote and see the good in our sport. Rest In peace.”

Former Jayhawk centers Paul Mokeski and Eric Chenowith, who like Walton grew up in California, were also saddened upon hearing the news regarding the two-time college (1972, 73 UCLA) and two-time NBA champion (1977 Portland Trail Blazers; 1986 Boston Celtics). Walton was inducted in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993.

Mokeski, a 7-footer who played at KU from 1975-79 and then went on to enjoy a 14-year NBA career, wrote on Facebook: “Sad day today. We lost one of the greats! He was one of my idols that I actually got to play against in my days in the NBA.

“This picture is how I remember him,” Mokeski added of a picture of Walton positioning himself perfectly for an inside pass during a UCLA game against Louisville.

“I grew up in Southern California when Bill was playing and owning the NCAA at UCLA. I watched all his games on tape delay TV back then and in my mind I wanted to be him. Could score, great touch, great shot blocker, rebounder and outlet passer. One of the best passing centers of all time,” Mokeski noted.

“I got to talk to him off the court many times after we retired. He always asked about my family and my former coach at KU, Ted Owens. What I will always remember is his love for the game of basketball played the right way. I have always had the same love and respect for the game. Rest in peace BIG FELLA.”

Chenowith, a 7-footer who played at KU from 1997-2001, was an AAU teammate of Walton’s sons Luke and Nate. As a high school sophomore emerging as a blue-chip college prospect, Chenowith was invited by Walton to spend a weekend with the Waltons at their residence in San Diego.

That led to a long-term friendship between Chenowith and Bill Walton.

“While I was there, he took me to ‘Muni gym,’ in San Diego for a one-on-one workout for two hours,” Chenowith told The Star on Monday. “He showed me footwork, basics of playing the low post and high post, reverse pivots, front pivots, outside pivots, the basics of footwork.

“He was a Hall of Famer and took time out of his weekend to work with a high school kid in the gym. After that I went to the house and hung out with Luke and Nate. He had a chef prepare a feast — fresh grilled fish, amazing food.”

Chenowith found Walton to be “a good teacher, good communicator, just a really nice man. It’s funny because I remember we got in a Cadillac and drove to the gym. I said, ‘Bill do you want to listen to the Grateful Dead?’ He said: ‘We are not doing music now. We’re doing church. We’re going to the gym. The gym is my church so no music right now.’’’

Chenowith joked that Walton’s house in San Diego was “famous for having a teepee in his back yard used for consumption of something you roll and smoke. I never partook in the teepee but can attest it was there.

“His house was like a museum with Grateful Dead art, Carlos Santana and The Doors,” Chenowith added, “There was a Larry Bird jersey hanging in Luke’s room.”

Chenowith attended several games that Walton worked as a broadcaster (for ESPN or various teams) these past many years.

“If I was at a Clippers game, I’d say hi. He’d say, ‘Eric how are you? How is your family?’ He was always a kind, thoughtful man,” Chenowith said. “This has really been a tough day. I think about all the things he did in his life and how he said he was the luckiest person in the world. I’m thankful I got to know him and his sons. He was a big inspiration in my life and part of my life.”

Walton played against KU once during his college days. He scored six points while playing 20 minutes in the Bruins’ 78-61 victory over the Jayhawks in the third-place game of the 1974 NCAA Tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Here are some tributes to Walton compiled from social media site X:

From Kansas basketball: “Rest in Peace to a true basketball icon in Bill Walton. We always loved your trips to Allen Fieldhouse and will greatly miss your One of a Kind presence.”

From ESPN’s Jay Bilas: “He may have been the greatest college basketball player of all time. He was an all-time great pro as well. But more than that he was an absolutely magnificent, beautiful person that you just loved to be around at all times.”

From ESPN’s Dick Vitale: “Please tell me that it is not true that the big redhead BILL WALTON has passed- OMG May Bill RIP.”

Vitale added: “BILL WALTON who when healthy in the @NBA was a dominant force & simply as good as it gets . May Bill RIP CANCER SUCKS & is BRUTAL.”

From the U.S. Basketball Writers: “The Basketball Writers Association mourns the passing of Bill Walton, the first three-time men’s national player of the year who became a great friend of the organization. His appearance at the annual USBWA awards banquet in St. Louis last year became an unforgettable night and morning when he invited the audience to continue the conversation in the Jack Buck Grille. His broadcast career as a story teller was all the more remarkable because of his ability to overcome stuttering, an achievement he credited to exercises developed by Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Glickman.”

From Dr. J, Julius Erving: “I am sad today hearing that my comrade & one of the sports world’s most beloved champions & characters has passed. Bill Walton enjoyed life in every way. To compete against him & to work with him was a blessing in my life. Sorry for your loss Walton family. We’ll miss him too.”

From the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame: “Today we mourn the passing of legendary Hall of Famer Bill Walton. He was a true friend to the Hall and a persistent champion for what the sport can accomplish in the lives of those who play. Our sincere condolences to his family and friends. Bill’s contributions to the NBA and UCLA will be forever remembered at the Hall.”

From Hall of Famer Magic Johnson: “Rest in peace to a friend, 2X NBA Champion, Hall of Famer, and one of the most skilled centers we’ve ever seen Bill Walton! His NCAA Championship performance as a UCLA Bruin against Memphis is by far the most dominant NCAA Championship performance ever. He shot 21-for-22 and had us all mesmerized! That’s when I first fell in love with his basketball game. They talk about Jokic being the most skilled center but Bill Walton was first! From shooting jump shots to making incredible passes, he was one of the smartest basketball players to ever live. Bill was a great ambassador for college basketball and the NBA, and he will be sorely missed. Cookie and I send our condolences and prayers to his wife Lori, kids Luke, Nathan, Chris, and Adam, and all of his loved ones.”

From Barack Obama: “Bill Walton was one of the greatest basketball players of all time — a champion at every level and the embodiment of unselfish team play. He was also a wonderful spirit full of curiosity, humor and kindness. We are poorer for his passing, and Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to his family.”