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Bill Walton: Ex-NBA Hall of Fame player dies at 71

May 28, 2024

Basketball icon and former MVP Bill Walton has died after a prolonged battle with cancer. Tributes from his friends and former colleagues poured in on social media.

Bill Walton takes part in a Q&A following "The Luckiest Guy in the World" world premiere during 2023 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Austin Convention Center on March 15, 2023 in Austin, Texas
A 2023 docuseries titled "The Luckiest Guy in the World" followed the life of Bill WaltonImage: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Hall of Fame center Bill Walton, who was once the US' National Basketball Association's (NBA) Most Valuable Player (MVP) and a two-time champion, died on Monday after a prolonged battle with cancer. He was 71.

The nearly 7-foot-tall icon was surrounded by family when he passed away.

He was fondly known as "Big Red" for his size and hair color.

Walton's career

Fresh out from a stellar basketball career in college at UCLA, Walton won his first NBA championship with the Portland Trail Blazers in 1977 and he was named the league's MVP the following year.

He had a stint with the Clippers, in San Diego and Los Angeles, and then moved to the Boston Celtics where he won a second title in 1986.

Walton was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993 and the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. 

File image of Bill Walton (left) playing for the Boston Celtics and Moses Malone of the Philadelphia 76ers
Basketball icon Bill Walton died Monday at the age of 71Image: Steve Lipofsky/ZUMA Wire/picture alliance

His No. 32 is retired by UCLA and the Trail Blazers. 

Post his playing career, Walton overcame his speech impairment in his 20s to become a popular broadcaster and commentator for college level basketball and NBA games.

"Bill Walton was a true legend — an extraordinary player, talented broadcaster and vital part of the Blazers organization," the basketball team Trail Blazers said in a statement.

"But Bill was so much more than basketball, he was larger than life. His upbeat and vibrant personality will forever be remembered and cherished, and he will be deeply missed by our organization, Rip City and all who experienced him."

Tributes to the icon

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who preceded Walton at UCLA and was his contemporary in the NBA, posted a farewell to social media.

"My very close friend, fellow Bruin and NBA rival Bill Walton died today. And the world feels so much heavier now," Abdul-Jabbar wrote. "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 was the best of us." 

ESPN broadcaster Dave Pasch, a longtime on-air partner of Walton, spoke of his days with the former MVP and shared an image on social media platform X

"Bill was a special, kind, and genuine person. I'm incredibly grateful for our close friendship, and the time we spent together on the air, out to dinner after the game, or in his teepee in his backyard. An iconic athlete and broadcaster, but more important, a legendary person who always made me smile," Pasch said.

Former US President Barack Obama also took to social media. "Bill Walton was one of the greatest basketball players of all time — a champion at every level and the embodiment of unselfish team play. He was also a wonderful spirit full of curiosity, humor and kindness."

"We are poorer for his passing, and Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to his family," he wrote on X.  

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mk/fb (Reuters, AP, AFP)