UCLA, NBA great Bill Walton dead at 71

UCLA, NBA great Bill Walton dead at 71

UCLA great and NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton has died at the age of 71, the NBA announced Monday.

The accomplished center died of cancer, according to the NBA.

In a statement, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called Walton “truly one of a kind,” citing his impact both on the court and in the broadcast booth, “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,” Silver said. “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.”

  • Bill Walton
    ESPN college basketball announcer Bill Walton poses for a photo during a college basketball game between the Syracuse Orange and the Gonzaga Bulldogs on day two of the Allstate Maui Invitational at the SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center on Nov. 21, 2023, in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
  • Bill Walton and John Wooden
  • Bill Walton
    UCLA’s Bill Walton during game vs Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana, on Jan. 29, 1972. (James Drake/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)
  • Bill Walton
    UCLA’s Bill Walton (32) in action vs Washington State in Pullman, Washington, on Feb. 21, 1972. (George Long/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)
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    Close up of Bill Walton of the Portland Trail Blazers, professional basketball team, in his uniform.
  • Bill Walton
    Legendary player and now broadcaster Bill Walton in the ESPN booth during the NBA Europe Live Tour presented by EA Sports on Oct. 10, 2006 at the Koeln Arena in Cologne, Germany. (Mansoor Ahmed/Getty Images)
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    Bill Walton during recording session for upcoming video game, Sept. 2, 2001 in San Diego, California. (Getty Images/Bob Riha, Jr.)

Walton starred at UCLA under legendary coach John Wooden. The pair won national championships in 1972 and 1973, and Walton was thrice the national college player of the year.

“A true Bruin legend that will forever be missed,” UCLA Athletics wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “We send our condolences to the Walton family.”

Current UCLA coach Mick Cronin added that “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,” Cronin said in a news release. “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.”

In the professional ranks, he played for the Portland Trail Blazers, the San Diego and Los Angeles Clippers, and the Boston Celtics. He was a two-time NBA champion and winner of the league’s Most Valuable Player award in 1978.

Aside from his time on the court, Walton, a native of La Mesa in San Diego County, was known for his love of jam bands, particularly the Grateful Dead, and was often sporting a tie-dyed or Hawaiian shirt while broadcasting basketball games.

Despite what the NBA called “a prolonged battle with cancer,” Walton was spotted at this year’s NBA All-Star Game with a smile on his face.

Walton is survived by his wife, Lori, and four sons, Adam, Nate, Luke and Chris, all four of whom played college basketball.

In addition, Luke Walton played for and coached the Los Angeles Lakers, among other teams, and was an assistant coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers this past season. Adam Walton is also a basketball coach, serving as an assistant for San Diego Mesa College.

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