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Bill Walton, two-time NBA champion and Hall of Fame center, dead at 71 after cancer battle

Peter Sblendorio, New York Daily News on

Published in Basketball

Bill Walton, the game-changing Hall of Fame center whose larger-than-life charisma later endeared him to audiences as a basketball broadcaster, died Monday after a long battle with cancer, the NBA announced.

He was 71.

Walton won two NCAA championships under John Wooden at UCLA and two more titles in the NBA, first with the Portland Trail Blazers in 1977 and then with the Boston Celtics in 1986.

“Bill Walton was truly one of a kind,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “As a Hall of Fame player, he redefined the center position. His unique all-around skills made him a dominant force.”

Born in the San Diego suburb of La Mesa, Calif., the 6-11 Walton played a starring role for much of UCLA’s run as the most dominant team in NCAA history. He won his first 73 games on the Bruins’ varsity roster, including undefeated seasons in 1971-72 and 1972-73 that ended with championships.

Walton famously scored 44 points on 21-of-22 shooting in the 1973 national championship game against Memphis to clinch his second title.

 

His first loss came in January 1974 as a senior. The defeat by Notre Dame ended UCLA’s record streak of 88 consecutive victories that began before Walton was on the roster.

Walton averaged 20.3 points and 15.7 rebounds per game during his UCLA career, winning national player of the year in all three seasons. His back-to-back championships were the final two of Wooden’s seven consecutive titles.

“I was John Wooden’s easiest recruit,” Walton told GQ in 2016. “I became his worst nightmare. I drove the poor guy to an early grave when he was 99. I had three different periods of my life in my relationship with him: (1) when I was a high school student and he was recruiting me; (2) when I played for him when I was 17 to 21; (3) and then 36 years of being his friend.”

Drafted first overall by the Trail Blazers in 1974, Walton dealt with foot injuries early in his NBA career and totaled 86 games over his first two seasons.

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