Basketball Hall of Famer and colourful commentator Bill Walton passes away at age 71 from cancer

Hall of Famer Broadcast Icon Bill Walton Passes Away at 71 After Prolonged Battle With Cancer | Image Credit:
Hall of Famer Broadcast Icon Bill Walton Passes Away at 71 After Prolonged Battle With Cancer | Image Credit:

After a protracted fight with cancer, Bill Walton, the basketball Hall of Fame centre who won two national crowns at UCLA, two NBA championships in Portland and Boston, and subsequently popularised colour commentary, passed away on Monday, the NBA confirmed.

Walton was seventy-one. The NBA claims that his family was around him.

In a statement, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stated, “Bill Walton was really one of a kind.” As a member of the Hall of Fame, he revolutionised the centre position. He was a dominant force at UCLA thanks to his special all-around abilities, which also earned him two NBA titles, a position on the NBA’s 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams, and MVP honours in the regular season and playoffs.

“Bill then transferred his contagious energy and passion for the game to broadcasting, providing colourful and perceptive analysis that delighted a generation of hoops fans.

But his enthusiasm for life is what I shall miss most about him. He was a frequent sight at league functions, always cheerful, beaming from ear to ear, and eager to impart his warmth and wisdom. I loved our tight connection, was envious of his endless energy, and appreciated the time he spent to get to know everyone.

Walton’s basketball career started at UCLA, where the 6-foot-11, red-headed centre excelled under the direction of the late great coach John Wooden, helping the Bruins to consecutive perfect 30-0 seasons in 1972 and 1973, as well as national titles. Walton made 22 shots and only missed one in the 1973 final game, scoring 44 points, a record for the championship fight.

At one time, the group set a men’s record with 88 straight victories. Walton was named an All-American and the National College Player of the Year in each of his three varsity seasons.

Nevertheless, Walton and Wooden had several disagreements about political and cultural matters, like as Walton’s long hair and his opposition to the Vietnam War.

The Portland Trail Blazers selected the big man with the neat hook jumper with the first overall choice in the 1974 NBA Draft. He helped the franchise win its first NBA title in 1977. During that postseason season, he was crowned the NBA Finals MVP and the NBA Regular Season MVP the next year.

However, a string of injuries wrecked his career. From 1979 to 1985, he played with the San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers after leaving Portland, but he never quite lived up to the expectations of those early seasons due to a history of foot and knee problems that ultimately required over 40 orthopaedic surgery.

After that, he signed with the Boston Celtics, where he revitalised his career and, as stars Robert Parish and Kevin McHale’s dependable backup, earned the NBA Sixth Man of the Year title in 1986. Together, the team defeated the Houston Rockets in 1986 to win the NBA championship—Walton’s second of his career.

1993 saw him become a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

From playing to broadcasting

Walton, who stuttered as a child, went on to have a successful career in broadcasting as an occasionally bizarre analyst for NBA and NCAA basketball games. Most recently, he worked for ESPN.

He was renowned for infusing his coverage of the game with a feeling of surprise, excitement, and wackiness. He was a well-known Grateful Dead enthusiast who frequently appeared in tie-dye shirts and included allusions to the band throughout his reporting.

On a broadcast, he famously said, “Come on, that was no foul! Even if it goes against every fundamental principle of human decency, it’s not a foul.

Regarding a different one: “Not saying anything is really saying a lot since a lot of people know what it means.”

He also enjoyed showing off how smart he was. Among his greatest sayings, according to Horrible Announcing, was “Yesterday we honoured Sir Isaac Newton’s discovery of gravity.” Fabricio Oberto is rejecting it right now.

He battled the effects of all those wounds, and in 2016 he revealed to David Axelrod on the CNN podcast “The Axe Files” that he was on the verge of suicide in 2008 due to back agony.

Back pain is the leading cause of suicide among those in that space, more so than any other illness. It’s simply too much. It ruins everything in your life. It devastates every facet of everyone in your immediate vicinity,” he remarked.

“And then there was one instance where I had nothing, but I recovered after having surgery. I don’t take any medicine. I’m not in pain. I immediately proceed at full speed. Never have I been so busy. Never have I felt better. Since I was thirteen years old, I have not been this healthy. I never imagined that I would be pain-free or content in a relationship, but I now have both of those things after all these years. I really am the luckiest man alive.

He also shared with Axelrod his stutter management strategy.

“I was unable to say hi. I was unable to say “thank you.” I really could not explain myself; I could not say a word without stuttering, stammering, or hesitating,” he remarked. “I use athletics as a means of expression. I use reading as a means of expression. I express myself by just existing in a larger universe than I ever could have imagined.”

When Walton was 28 years old, renowned announcer and former track star Marty Glickman assisted him in overcoming his speech impediment.

In the corner, he grabbed hold of me. He simply lay it out in five minutes as we were standing behind a potted plant. Bam, Bam, Bam! This is how one learns to communicate,” he stated.

Following Walton’s passing, Axelrod lauded Walton for being more than just a basketball player.

He was a universal human being with a big heart and contagious joy for life. He endured great suffering, yet as an announcer, he was able to lighten our loads and make us laugh,” he wrote on X.

In a statement, UCLA men’s basketball coach Mick Cronin expressed his sympathies and highlighted Walton’s legacy.

“It’s difficult to express the depth of his influence on UCLA basketball and the programme as a whole,” he remarked. “Apart from his outstanding athletic achievements, his infectious energy, passionate approach to the game, and unfailing honesty have been the defining characteristics of his larger-than-life attitude.”

Walton is survived by his four boys, who were all collegiate basketball players, and his wife Lori. Luke Walton and his father became the first father-son team to win multiple NBA rings when they won two titles together with the Los Angeles Lakers.

The first siblings to participate in NFL and NBA championship games was Bill Walton’s brother Bruce, who passed away in 2019. Bruce was a member of the Dallas Cowboys and participated in the Super Bowl in January 1976.

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