NBA Legend Bill Walton Dies at 71: ‘Truly One of a Kind’

Ethan Miller/Getty
Ethan Miller/Getty

Bill Walton, a former National Basketball Association MVP and Hall of Famer who built a second career as an equally legendary broadcaster, died Monday at 71.

The cause of death was cancer, the NBA said in a statement on Monday afternoon, adding that Walton was surrounded by his family at the time of his passing.

“Bill Walton was truly one of a kind,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in the statement. “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.”

Walton played for the Portland Trail Blazers, the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Boston Celtics during his NBA career, during which he earned the MVP title in 1978. He also won the league championship in 1977 and 1986.

“He redefined the center position,” Silver said in his statement, in which he also praised Walton’s “infectious enthusiasm and love for the game” as a broadcaster.

Walton began working as a sports commentator in 1990 for Prime Ticket Network. He later did stints at CBS and NBC, and covered the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games. In recent years, he worked for ESPN and for the Pac-12 Network, where he focused on college basketball.

“He delivered insightful and colorful commentary which entertained generations of basketball fans,” Silver said. “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.”

Prior to joining the NBA as the No. 1 pick, Walton won two NCAA championships at UCLA as a sophomore and junior, in 1972 and 1973, capping off the school’s remarkable run of seven straight titles.

“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,” the university’s head basketball coach, Mick Cronin, said in a separate statement. “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 praised Walton as a “passionate UCLA alumnus and broadcaster,” adding, “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.”

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