UCLA, Celtics Legend Bill Walton Dies at 71 After Cancer Battle

UCLA, Celtics Legend Bill Walton Dies at 71 After Cancer Battle

Hall of Famer Won 2 NCAA Titles and 2 NBA Titles. Known For His Joy, Love For The Grateful Dead and UCLA Coach John Wooden

Grateful Red, The Big Redhead… A legend. A titan. An idol. A disruptor. An enigma. A walking billboard for UCLA Basketball and the Pyramid of Success. A lifetime friend and evangelist for Coach John Wooden. A great one has left us.

BILL WALTON 1952-2024

Those of us who grew up in Southern California always looked up to him as larger than life. A living legend, if you will. He was everything UCLA. He seemed to float through Pauley Pavilion, every time that we would attend a Bruin game. A pied piper.

After Coach Wooden passed away, the big man in the middle picked up his mantle. In every ESPN hoops broadcast Walton would sermonize about something Coach taught him.

30-0. 30-0. We will never see another level of dominance like this. 1972 and 1973 saw Walton lead John Wooden’s UCLA team to 2 perfect NCAA Titles, back to back. 88 wins in a row, overall. He was a 3x National Player of the Year. He clashed with Coach Wooden, over his hippie tendencies and political views. But, the mentorship of Wooden won him over and made the redhead 6 foot 11 inch Center different than so many of his peers. He carried the heart and the truths of his coach, through his entire NBA career and post-sports career in broadcasting.

The #1 pick in the 1974 Draft immediately transformed the Portland Trailblazers and they won the 1977 NBA Championship on his back. The Finals MVP was possibly his professional crowning moment…

The sadness that ran through Bill Walton’s life, was the injuries that he had to live through. They started in the mid to late 70’s and Walton lived in pain the rest of his life and endured almost 40 surgeries. If he had played in 2024, the advances in medicine most likely would have extended his career. But, pain and limited movement were the cross that he had to bear for life.

After some time in San Diego, Walton went to the Boston Celtics- where he would go head to head with Kareem Abdul Jabaar and the Lakers in basketball’s greatest rivalry of all-time. In 1986, he had a resurgence, winning the NBA 6th Man of the Year award, backing up Kevin McHale and the Chief, Robert Parrish. Boston beat the Twin Towers Akeem Olojuwon and Ralph Sampson in the 1986 Finals to win Walton’s 2nd and final Ring.

“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 said. “He was the best of us.”

-Lakers Hall of Fame Center Kareem Abdul Jabbar

Bill Walton was a member of NBA’s 50th anniversary and 75th anniversary teams.

“Bill Walton was truly one of a kind,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “As a Hall of Fame player, he redefined the center position. 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.

“Bill then translated his infectious enthusiasm and love for the game to broadcasting, 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. 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.”

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