Follow

Hall Of Famer Bill Walton, 2-time Champ At UCLA And In NBA, Dies Age 71

Basketball legend Bill Walton, who led the UCLA Bruins to two national titles before winning two championships during his NBA career, has died at the age of 71 after a prolonged battle with cancer. Walton died Monday while surrounded by his loved ones, his family said in a statement released by the NBA. “Bill Walton was truly one of a kind,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement.

He was the NBA’s MVP in the 1977-78 season and a member of the league’s 50th and 75th anniversary teams. That all followed a college career in which he was a two-time champion at UCLA and a three-time national player of the year under iconic coach John Wooden.

“What I will remember most about him was his zest for life,” Silver said in his statement.” 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.

“As a cherished member of the NBA family for 50 years, Bill will be deeply missed by all those who came to know and love him.” The 6-foot-11 Walton, who was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993, was larger than life on the court, off the court and during his broadcasting career. His NBA career — disrupted by chronic foot injuries — lasted only 468 games with the Portland Trail Blazers, LA (and formerly San Diego) Clippers and Boston Celtics. He averaged a double-double in those games — 13.3 points and 10.5 rebounds.

Though neither of those numbers is near record-setting, his impact on the game was massive.

“Bill Walton was a true legend — an extraordinary player, talented broadcaster, and vital part of the Blazers organization,” the Trail Blazers said in a statement. “… Bill was so much more than basketball. He was larger than life. His upbeat and vibrant personality will forever be remembered and cherished, and he will be deeply missed by our organization, Rip City and all who experienced him.”

His most famous game was the 1973 NCAA title matchup, UCLA against Memphis State, in which he shot an incredible 21-for-22 from the field and led the Bruins to another national championship. The Bruins kept giving the ball to Walton, and he kept delivering in a performance for the ages.

“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.”

Walton became a charter member of the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame in 1984, and his No. 32 was joined by the No. 33 of former UCLA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (known in college as Lew Alcindor) as the first two men’s basketball jersey numbers to be retired by the Bruins in 1990.

“My very close friend, fellow Bruin, and NBA rival Bill Walton died today,” Abdul-Jabbar posted to X. “And the world feels so much heavier now. On the court, Bill was a fierce player, but off the court he wasn’t happy unless he did everything he could to make everyone around him happy. “He was the best of us.”

Walton retired from the NBA and turned to broadcasting, something he never thought he could be good at — and an avenue he sometimes wasn’t sure would be possible for him — because he had a pronounced stutter at times in his life. Turns out, he was excellent at that, too: Walton was an Emmy winner.

Walton was also a huge Grateful Dead fan, and he had his own satellite radio show called “One More Saturday Night” on Sirius Radio’s Jam On and XM Radio’s Grateful Dead channels.

Walton was also a father who passed the game down to his children, including Luke Walton, who won back-to-back NBA Finals with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 and 2010 during his playing days. Luke currently serves as an assistant coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers after previously head coaching the Lakers (2016-19) and Kings (2019-22).

Chris Walton (San Diego State), Nate Walton (Princeton) and Adam Walton (LSU, Pomona College, College of Notre Dame) all played college basketball as well.

More From LATF USA

Scroll to Top