Bill Walton, NBA Champion and UCLA Legend, Dies at 71

The two-time NBA and NCAA champion went on to become an Emmy-winning sports broadcaster

Bill Walton at the Clippers-Suns game in April 2023 (Getty Images)

Bill Walton, the two-time NBA and NCAA champion, Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer and Emmy-winning broadcaster, died at the age of 71 on Monday after a prolonged battle with cancer, the NBA announced.

A graduate of UCLA, Walton played under the legendary coach John Wooden and led the Bruins to back-to-back national championships in 1972 and 1973 while winning 88 games in a row and being named player of the year for three straight seasons.

In 1974, he became the No. 1 draft pick and joined the Portland Trailblazers, leading them to an NBA title in 1977 while being named Finals MVP. A series of foot injuries led to a downturn in his career, but in his final two seasons as a pro, he went out on a high note as a bench play for the Boston Celtics, earning the NBA’s Sixth Man award in 1986 while winning a second NBA title with the team.

During his pro career, Walton worked with longtime New York Knicks play-by-play man Marty Glickman to overcome a speech impediment, allowing him to embark on a new career as a broadcaster after retiring from the NBA. He served as an analyst and color commentator for ABC, CBS and ESPN, as well as for the Los Angeles Clippers and Sacramento Kings. During his run at NBC from 1990 to 2002, he received an Emmy in 2001 for Best Live Sports Television Broadcast.

Arguably his most famous — and polarizing — work as a color commentator came at ESPN, where he called Pac-12 college basketball games alongside play-by-play announcer Dave Pasch. Walton became known for his catchphrases, his lighthearted banter with Pasch, and for going on tangents about the schools and teams playing in the game — along with whatever else came to mind — that were unrelated to what was happening on the court.

Those tangents made him the target of frustration among some college basketball fans, but also earned him a devoted fanbase as he became an enthusiastic supporter of the Pac-12 conference and its schools, including his alma mater, UCLA. His passing comes days after the Pac-12 completed its final sports broadcast, as it is dissolving with its teams moving to other conferences.

“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.”

Walton is survived by his wife, Lori, and his four sons Adam, Nathan, Luke and Chris. All four sons played college basketball, with Luke now serving as assistant coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers after winning a pair of NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers. His wins made him and his father the first father-son duo to win multiple NBA championships.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.