Bill Walton, N.B.A. Hall Of Famer And Broadcasting Star, Dies At 71

Bill Walton, N.B.A. Hall of Famer and Broadcasting Star, Dies at 71

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Bill Walton

BILL WALTON, N.B.A. HALL OF FAMER AND BROADCASTING STAR, DIES AT 71

Bill Walton, a basketball center whose extraordinary passing and rebounding skills helped him win two national college championships with U.C.L.A. and one each with the Portland Trail Blazers and the Boston Celtics of the N.B.A., and who overcame a stutter to become a loquacious broadcast commentator, died on Monday at his home in San Diego. He was 71.

The N.B.A. said the cause was cancer.

A redheaded hippie and devoted Grateful Dead fan, Walton was a 6-foot-11 acolyte of the renowned U.C.L.A. coach John Wooden and anchored the Bruins team that won N.C.A.A. championships in 1972 and 1973, along the way extending an 88-game winning streak that began in 1971. He was named the national college player of the year three times.

BILL WALTON, N.B.A. HALL OF FAMER AND BROADCASTING STAR, DIES AT 71

Walton’s greatest game was the 1973 national championship against Memphis State, played in St. Louis. He got into foul trouble in the first half, but went on to score a record 44 points on 21-for-22 shooting and had 11 rebounds in U.C.L.A.’s 87-66 victory. It was the school’s ninth title in 10 years.

Walton — not yet known for his often hyperbolic, stream-of-consciousness speaking manner — refused to say much after the game. As he left the locker room, he told reporters: “Excuse me, I want to go meet my friends. I’m splitting.”

He played one more year at U.C.L.A. before Portland selected him first overall in the 1974 N.B.A. draft. He weathered injuries, two losing seasons under Coach Lenny Wilkens and criticism over his vegetarian diet and his red ponytail and beard before winning the 1977 championship under Coach Jack Ramsay.

“I think Jack Ramsay reached Walton,” Eddie Donovan, the Knicks’ general manager at the time, told the New York Times columnist Dave Anderson. “Of all the coaches in our league, Jack Ramsay is the closest to being the John Wooden type — scholarly, available. I think Walton responded to that.”

BILL WALTON, N.B.A. HALL OF FAMER AND BROADCASTING STAR, DIES AT 71

But the question that lingered throughout Walton’s N.B.A. career was how good he would have been if not for his many injuries. Better than Bill Russell? Wilt Chamberlain? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of his predecessors at U.C.L.A.?

Walton never played more than 70 games in a season — even in the 1977-78 season, when he was named most valuable player, he played in just 58 games — and he missed three full seasons (1978-79, 1980-81 and 1981-82).

“When I’m healthy,” he said early in his Portland career, “I play real good, I think.”

He was asked whether anyone had seen the real Bill Walton.

“I don’t think so,” he said.

He had a knee injury as a teenager during a playground game. But, as he wrote in one of his memoirs, “Back From the Dead: Searching for the Sound, Shining the Light and Throwing It Down” (2016), it was “my malformed feet — my faulty foundation, which led to the endless string of stress fractures which ultimately brought on the whole mess I’m in now.”

BILL WALTON, N.B.A. HALL OF FAMER AND BROADCASTING STAR, DIES AT 71

He underwent nearly 40 orthopedic surgeries, mostly on his feet and ankles.

“My feet were not built to last — or to play basketball,” he wrote. “My skeletal, structural foundation — inflexible and rigid — could not absorb the endless stress and impact of running, jumping, turning, twisting and pounding for 26 years.”

A full obituary will appear shortly.

THE N.C.A.A. AGREED TO PAY PLAYERS. IT WON’T CALL THEM EMPLOYEES.

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