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Sports world reacts to Bill Walton's death at age 71

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Bill WaltonBill Walton before the game between the Stanford Cardinals and the Colorado Buffaloes at the Coors Events Center - Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports

As thoughts and thanks poured in to mark Memorial Day on Monday, the sports world also commemorated the life of Hall of Fame basketball legend Bill Walton. The former UCLA star passed away on Monday at the age of 71 following a battle with cancer. His death came as a shock to many as his illness was not widely known.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had his Bruins jersey retired alongside his teammate’s in 1990, paid tribute to Walton on Monday, writing, “The world feels so much heavier now,” and “He was the best of us.”

Today I had to say goodbye to
a great friend that I will always miss….@UCLAAthletics @UCLAMBB @NBA pic.twitter.com/JIA3sORJgY

— Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (@kaj33) May 27, 2024

Saying goodbye to Bill Walton

Walton’s former Celtics teammate Larry Bird also shared a touching message about the loss of his friend.

“I am very sorry about my good friend, Bill Walton. I love him as a friend and teammate,” Bird said. “It was a thrill for me to play with my childhood idol and together we earned an NBA Championship in 1986. 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.”

ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas noted that as good of a basketball player as Walton was, he was an even better person.

“He may have been the greatest college basketball player of all time. He was an all-time great pro as well. … But more than that … He was an absolutely magnificent, beautiful person that you just loved to be around at all times.”

Before dropping game four of the conference finals on Monday night, Pacers coach Rick Carlisle discussed his former Celtics teammate.

“To me, he was a living, breathing event in history just walking around,” Carlisle said. “He played drums for the Grateful Dead at the Pyramids in Egypt. He was a guy who did everything and there’s been a lot of talk today about how he speaks in hyperbole and stuff, but he just defiantly competed for every moment in life to be the greatest it could possibly be.”

Legend! RIP 🙏 https://t.co/Y9v6a488eT

— Patrick Mahomes II (@PatrickMahomes) May 27, 2024

Walton leaves lasting legacy

The former UCLA star and No. 1 overall draft pick won a pair of NBA championships during his playing career and also won the 1978 MVP award. At UCLA, Walton won three consecutive National Player of the Year, awards, while leading the Bruins to back-to-back national titles. He was named the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player after both seasons.

Walton played in the NBA from 1974-1988, ending his career with the Boston Celtics. He was forced to retire from basketball due to injuries though he is still considered among the Top 50 greatest NBA players of all time.

Following his playing days, Walton got into broadcasting and was known for his unique style of analyzing games. He worked as a broadcaster for CBS, NBC and most recently ESPN, calling mostly Pac-12 games.

UCLA coach Mick Cronin shared a message following the former Bruins’ passing:

“It’s very hard to put into words what he has meant to UCLA’s program, as well as his tremendous impact on college basketball,” Cronin said Monday. “Beyond his remarkable accomplishments as a player, it’s his relentless energy, enthusiasm for the game and unwavering candor that have been the hallmarks of his larger-than-life personality.

“As a passionate UCLA alumnus and broadcaster, he loved being around our players, hearing their stories and sharing his wisdom and advice. For me as a coach, he was honest, kind and always had his heart in the right place. I will miss him very much. It’s hard to imagine a season in Pauley Pavilion without him.”

Adam Silver pays tribute to Hall of Famer

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver released a statement following Walton’s death, detailing what he meant to the game of basketball as well as what he was like as a friend.

“Bill Walton was truly one of a kind. As a Hall of Fame player, he redefined the center position. 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.

“Bill then translated his infectious enthusiasm and love for the game to broadcasting, where he delivered insightful and colorful commentary that entertained generations of basketball fans. 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. As a cherished member of the NBA family for 50 years, Bill will be deeply missed by all those who came to know and love him. My heartfelt condolences to Bill’s wife, Lori; his sons, Adam, Nate, Luke and Chris; and his many friends and colleagues.”

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