‘I Loved Basketball’: NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton Dies at 71

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 08: Sportscaster and former NBA player Bill Walton poses before broadcasting a first-round game of the Pac-12 basketball tournament between the Oregon State Beavers and the Arizona State Sun Devils at T-Mobile Arena on March 08, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

NBA Hall of fame legend Bill Walton lost his battle with cancer and died at just 71. His personality on and off the court was just as legendary as the championships he won. Walton could walk into any arena and people would just go nuts to be around him.

William Theodore Walton III died on May 27, 2004. He was a two-time NBA Champion (1977 with the Portland Trail Blazers, and 1986 with the Boston Celtics), as well as a two-time champion at UCLA, and a three-time national player of the year. Walton grew up in San Diego in the 1950s and 1960s.

Reflecting on his career in his memoir Back from the Dead, the self-professed Grateful Dead superfan said after years of pain and injury he overcame it, but always believed he was the lucky one.

“I loved basketball. And I was going to go until I couldn’t go anymore. I had no desire to ever stop playing. I’ve never met anybody who stopped playing voluntarily. I ground my body up. I’ve had 37 orthopedic operations. I ground my feet up into dust. I’ve got a new knee. I‘ve got a new spine,” he told GQ writer Clay Skipper in 2016. “I’m the lucky one, Clay, in that I never thought going through all of it that I would be healthy at the end. And I almost wasn’t. But I’m all better now. Not everybody gets better. I am well aware how privileged and lucky I am. That carries with it responsibility.”

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JUNE 08: Former Boston Celtics player Bill Walton cheers with fans in the third quarter during Game Three of the 2022 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors at TD Garden on June 08, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Boston Celtics won 116-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Self-conscious in his younger days due to a stuttering problem, Walton considered overcoming stuttering one of his many great accomplishments in life. After playing ball he spent 19 years working as an announcer, won an Emmy and was named by the American Sportcasters Association as one of the top 50 sports broadcasters of all time in 2009. In addition, he hosted multiple podcasts and radio programs, and lent his voice and appearance in TV and film.

“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,” shared NBA commissioner Adam Silver in a statement.  “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.

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 13: Members of the Boston Celtics 1986 championship team Kevin McHale, Bill Walton and Danny Ainge are honored at halftime of the game between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat at TD Garden on April 13, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

“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,” Silver continued. “My heartfelt condolences to Bill’s wife, Lori; his sons, Adam, Nate, Luke and Chris; and his many friends and colleagues.”