NBA/college basketball legend Bill Walton dies at 71 of cancer

'Bill Walton was truly one of a kind," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says.

By Allen Cone
ESPN announcer Bill Walton pepares to broadcast Houston Rockets-Denver Nuggets game at the Pepsi Center in Denver on January 12, 2007. Photo by Gary C. Caskey/UPI
ESPN announcer Bill Walton pepares to broadcast Houston Rockets-Denver Nuggets game at the Pepsi Center in Denver on January 12, 2007. Photo by Gary C. Caskey/UPI | License Photo

May 27 (UPI) -- Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton, the red-headed center who won championships with the Portland Trail Blazers and Boston Celtics after starring at UCLA, has died at 71 after a prolonged bout with cancer, the league announced Monday.

"Bill Walton was truly one of a kind. As a Hall of Fame player, he redefined the center position," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said about the 6-foot-11 star in a news release. "His unique all-around skills made him a dominant force at UCLA and led to an NBA regular-season and Finals MVP, two NBA championships and a spot on the NBA's 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams.

At UCLA, Walton starred under John Wooden.


In 87 games at UCLA, Walton shot 65.1% from the field, averaging 20.3 points, 15.7 rebounds, and 5.5 assists. UCLA was 86-4 in Walton's three seasons, including titles and 30-0 records in 1972 and 73. He was part of the Bruins' 88-game winning streak.

He was the Most Outstanding Player in both Finals Four, and a three-time national player of the year.

Walton was selected No. 1 overall in the 1974 NBA Draft.

He played for the Portland Trail Blazers (1974-79), San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers (1979-85) and Boston Celtics (1985-88) over 10 seasons. Five seasons were entirely lost to foot injuries.

He was named NBA Finals MVP in leading the Blazers to the title in 1977 after earlier being named NBA MVP. Nine years later in 1986, Walton led the Celtics to the championship.

He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993.

Walton had 6,215 points at 13.3 per game, 4,923 rebounds (10.5) and 1,590 assists (3.4).

"Bill then translated his infections enthusiasm and love for the game to broadcasting, where he delivered insightful and colorful commentary which entertained generations of basketball fans," Silver said. "But 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."


He joined ESPN in 2002 to serve as lead NBA analyst for that network and ABC, and in 2012 he became a college basketball analyst for Pac-12 broadcasts. He also worked for CBS and NBC.

He suffered from back problems, which dated back to an injury in college. Walton had his ankles surgically fused.

"I didn't let pain be my guide," Walton wrote in his autobiography Nothing But Net. "I didn't say, 'If it hurt a lot, don't play.' "

He said he suffered a knee injury on the playground.

"My legs were pretty much shot by the time I got to the NBA in 1974," Walton wrote. "I peaked when I was 12."

He contemplated suicide due to the constant pain.

The type of cancer wasn't released by the NBA.

Walton, a Grateful Dead superfans is survived by his wife, Lori, and his sons Adam, Luke, Nate and Chris. Luke played for Arizona in college and the Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Calaviers in NBA, and is now an assistant coach with theCavaliers.

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