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Basketball and Broadcasting Legend Bill Walton Dies

Just a few days after the last TV broadcast of its network and the last event in Pac-12 history, the conference's biggest cheerleader passed away.

Bill Walton, one of the greatest centers in college and pro basketball history, died today at the age of 71 after an extended battle with cancer.

Walton led the UCLA Bruins to two national titles and later won two NBA championships with the Portland Trailblazers (1977) and Boston Celtics (1986).

He was a three-time NCAA Player of the Year and the NBA's MVP in 1978. He averaged a career double double in the NBA--13.3 points and 10.5 rebounds.

Walton's most famous game was the 1973 NCAA title matchup, UCLA against Memphis State, in which he shot an incredible 21-for-22 from the field and led the Bruins to another national championship.

As a pro, he played 10 seasons but only 468 games because of chronic foot problems. After leading Portland to the league title in '77 and then earning first-team All-NBA honors the following year, he played for the LA Clippers and Boston Celtics, with whom he won the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year and league championship in '86.

Walton overcame a lifelong stutter to become a successful broadcaster, initially for ESPN and at various times for NBC, ABC, CBS and the Pac-12 network. 

He was perhaps the most enthusiastic proponent of the Pac-12, incessantly repeating "Conference of Champions," while serving as an analyst on the league's basketball broadcasts.

I was fortunate to meet Walton while he was attending Stanford Law School and later asked him to do a speech as part of a speakers' series I produced while Associate AD at Stanford. 

We reconnected years later when his alma mater, UCLA, played three times in the bowl game I ran in San Francisco and Santa Clara. He was kind to me and our volunteers, and very supportive of the game. I really enjoyed our time together.

To me, Bill Walton was just a great guy. Big smile, warm heart. Enthusiastic and energetic. Upbeat and exuberant. Humble and self-deprecating. Passionate and giving. Honest and wise.

He was unique in so many ways. As a player, he redefined the center position. An excellent jump shooter and the best passing big man of his era, his play was reminiscent of NBA MVP Nikola Jokic today. 

As a broadcaster, Walton was well-known for entertaining viewers with his lengthy--and occasionally annoying--on-air tangents about everything from the best places to eat in each city, to someone he met the night before at dinner, to his beloved Grateful Dead.

"In life, being so self-conscious, red hair, big nose, freckles and goofy, nerdy-looking face and can't talk at all. I was incredibly shy and never said a word," Walton told The Oregonian in 2017. "Then, when I was 28, I learned how to speak. It's become my greatest accomplishment of my life and everybody else's biggest nightmare."

That big nightmare will be missed.

1 Kommentar

Jim Rutter
Jim Rutter
28. Mai

Bill Walton could not have been a more gracious, approachable, or genuine guy from my personal experience. Used to see him riding his bike across White Plaza when I was in school. Hard to miss. Did not meet him until years later when he was a sometimes goofy, but always enthusiastic hoops broadcaster, but had several good conversations. He was recently in an endorsement deal with a friend's mushroom company "Bill Walton's Wonder Bar" (not promoting here - it is just that it was "so Bill"!). A real shame to lose an all-time character.


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Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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