Bill Walton dies at 71 after long cancer battle

Bill Walton leaves behind a unique and impactful legacy

NBA legend Bill Walton

Walton’s talent and commitment on the court allowed him to become one of the greatest players in collegiate history and a multi-time NBA champion. His passion and quirkiness in the broadcast booth only expanded his prominence within the game.

“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 MVP and Finals MVP, two NBA championships and a spot on the NBA’s 50th and 75th Anniversary teams.”

The near-7-footer was a fixture in basketball for six decades and a master at adapting. He vaulted the Portland Trail Blazers to what still remains their peak in 1977, averaging 18.5 points, 19.0 rebounds and 5.2 assists in the six Finals games they played against the Philadelphia 76ers. The individual superstardom would unfortunately not extend past the 70s, though.

Chronic foot injuries prevented Walton from maximizing his ample potential, as he nearly missed the entirety of four consecutive seasons from 1978-82. Against all odds, the big man figured out how to stay relevant in the league and even collected more accolades. He earned Sixth Man of the Year honors for his contributions during the 1985-86 title run and helped the Boston Celtics temporarily reclaim their spot atop the mountain.

Bill Walton decided to retire just a couple years later, finally acquiescing to his body at the age of 34. That was only the end of one chapter, however.

Bill Walton always kept fans on their toes

ESPN analyst Bill Walton (left) and play-by-play announcer Dave Pasch during the game between the UCLA Bruins and the Maryland Terrapins at Pauley Pavilion presented by Wescom.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The gentle giant re-introduced himself to hoops fans in a manner few could have anticipated, settling in as one of the most unpredictable voices in professional broadcasting. He worked NBA games for many years and even won an Emmy award in 1991, but it is his time calling college basketball that will leave a lasting impression on those who ventured into the Bill Walton experience over the last decade.

While his analysis and off-kilter presence might not have been for everyone, he definitely gave ESPN’s viewers something to talk about. Whether he was taking off his shirt live on air, rubbing dirt on himself, making loud quacking sounds or incessantly (and affectionately harassing broadcast partner Dave Pasch, Walton always made sure to express himself to the audience.

His on-court acumen must be properly highlighted, but it is Big Red’s renown authenticity that many people value most when reflecting on his legacy.

“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,” 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.”

Bill Walton died surrounded by his loved ones, and there are many others who are deeply grateful for the joy he managed to infuse into living rooms all across the country.