Basketball icon Bill Walton was an all-time great on and off the court

Allstate Maui Invitiational - Day Two
Allstate Maui Invitiational - Day Two / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages

The basketball world has lost a colorful icon. Hall of Famer Bill Walton passed away Monday at the age of 71 after a prolonged bout with cancer.

“Bill Walton was truly one of a kind. As a Hall of Fame player, he redefined the center position," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a press release. "... 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."

The former UCLA Bruin, two-time NBA champion and 1977-1978 MVP, played 10 NBA seasons, spending time with the Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Clippers, and Boston Celtics. 

Bill Walton was an all-time great on and off the court

With his 6’11 frame, “Big Red’s” style was perfect for any era. He could attack the paint, score in transition, and even break out a mid-range jumper from time to time. Defensively, he was a solid rim protector who led the NBA in blocks and rebounds per game during the 1977–1978 season.

Walton’s career was ultimately cut short due to a slew of injuries, but his two championship runs showcased the kind of player he was. During Portland’s 1977 championship run, the La Mesa native was the Trail Blazers’ leading man, along with Maurice Lucas. 

When he joined the Celtics, Walton was asked to come off the bench and buy into an already established dynamic that included legends Larry Bird, Robert Parish, and Kevin McHale. Despite critics feeling that Walton was too far past his prime, he put together a tremendous season that ended with him receiving a 1986 championship ring and Sixth-Man of the Year honors. 

Put simply, Walton was able to adapt to whatever the game called far with his athleticism and infectious personality. This ability to adapt may have been what allowed the big man to deal with injuries and other obstacles over the course of his life.

“I am very sorry about my good friend, Bill Walton. I love him as a friend and teammate. It was a thrill for me to play with my childhood idol and together we earned an NBA championship in 1986,” Bird said of Walton in a statement. “He is one of the greatest ever to play the game. I am sure that all of my teammates are as grateful as I am that we were able to know Bill, he was such a joy to know and he will be sorely missed. My family and I extend our sincere condolences to the Walton family."

Walton joined ESPN’s roster of commentators in 2002 and covered NBA and college basketball games. Before ESPN, Walton also covered hoops for ABC and NBC. A known Grateful Dead superfan, Walton always brought his signature zaniness to broadcasts. In doing so, he endeared himself to a new generation of basketball fans who never had the privilege to watch him take the hardwood.

In a world of people that are “too cool for school,” Bill Walton never discounted the importance of unbridled enthusiasm and authentic joy.