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Former NBA Star and Hall of Famer Bill Walton Dead at Age 71 Following Cancer Battle

Former NBA Star Bill Walton Dead at age 71 Following Cancer Battle
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Former basketball star Bill Walton died at age 71 on Monday, May 27, following a battle with cancer.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver confirmed the news calling the late athlete “truly one of a kind” in a statement obtained by ESPN. Walton played for the University of California, Los Angeles from 1971 to 1974 before playing professional basketball with the Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics. He retired from the sport at age 34 in 1987 and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993.

“As a Hall of Fame player, he redefined the center position,” Silver’s statement read. “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.”

After his basketball career, Walton joined ESPN in 2002 as an NBA analyst. He started covering college basketball in 2012.

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“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’s statement continued. “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.”

Former NBA Star Bill Walton Dead at age 71 Following Cancer Battle
Bill Walton circa 1975 Focus on Sport/Getty Images

He concluded: “I treasured our close friendship, envied his boundless energy and admired the time he took with every person he encountered.”

ESPN chronicled Walton’s life and career in their four-part 30 For 30 special titled “The Luckiest Guy in the World,” which premiered in March 2023.

Former NBA Star Bill Walton Dead at age 71 Following Cancer Battle
Bill Walton circa 1976 Focus on Sport/Getty Images

“I was leery. I’m not a self-promoter. I’m not looking for attention. I like to do my job. I like to work,” Walton told Deadline about approving the docuseries, but having director Steve James on board changed his mind. “I knew Hoop Dreams. I didn’t know the other stuff. And the more I looked the more I liked.”

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While Walton had a lot to overcome during his basketball career, the former player — who grew up with a stutter — admitted, “Nothing has changed my life more than learning how to speak.”

He told Deadline: “I identify with everyone who faces struggles, challenges. And when you’re a stutterer, it completely changes your life. Because you’re constantly embarrassed and reluctant and ashamed. And you have to learn to overcome it. I am no longer ashamed about being a stutterer. I’m no longer self-conscious about being a stutterer. I am a stutterer.”

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