Hall of Famer Bill Walton dies at 71

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Bill Walton was a star at Helix High and UCLA before becoming a champion with the Blazers and Celtics and the first face of the Clippers.

Two-time NBA champion and Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton passed away at 71, surrounded by his family, following a prolonged battle with cancer, the NBA announced Monday.

Walton was born and raised in La Mesa, California, and starred at Helix High before going on to become one of the greatest college basketball players at UCLA, winning national college player of the the year three times and back-to back national championships in 1972 and 1973.

He won an NBA title, NBA MVP and Finals MVP with the Portland Trail Blazers — and an NBA title and the Sixth Man of the Year award with the Boston Celtics. He was also the first face of the San Diego Clippers when the Buffalo Braves moved to Southern California to become the Clippers near his hometown in 1979.

“Bill Walton was truly one of a kind,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is 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.

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