NBA Hall of Famer and broadcaster Bill Walton dies at 71

Sportscaster and former NBA player Bill Walton stands as the American national anthem is performed before broadcasting the Pac-12 Coast-to-Coast Challenge between the Texas Longhorns and the Stanford Cardinal at T-Mobile Arena on December 19, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
After winning two NBA championships, Bill Walton transitioned into a successful career in broadcasting [Getty Images]

Bill Walton, a National Basketball Association (NBA) Hall of Famer and one of the sport's biggest broadcasters, has died at age 71.

Walton died after a long battle with cancer, the league announced on Monday.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver remembered him as "truly one of a kind".

Walton was known for his legendary college basketball career in California - and for overcoming a stutter to build a successful broadcasting career.

At 6-foot-11, he played centre for the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)'s basketball team from 1971 to 1974.

It was with that team he led the Bruins to two championship wins and an 88-game winning streak.

He was then selected as the No1 overall draft pick in 1974 by the Portland Trail Blazers, kickstarting his professional career in the NBA.

Walton led the Blazers to a championship win in 1977 - their first and only title - and won the coveted Most Valuable Player award that season.

Nine years later, he won his second NBA championship, this time with the Boston Celtics.

In a statement on Monday, NBA commissioner Mr Silver said Walton was known in the league for his "unique all-around skills".

"As a Hall of Fame player, he redefined the centre position," added Mr Silver.

Walton's professional career lasted only 468 games and was cut short due chronic foot injuries.

But his basketball journey did not end there.

Bill Walton for the Portland Trail Blazers
Walton played for the Portland Trail Blazers from 1974 to 1979 [Getty Images]

Walton went on to become an illustrious and colourful Emmy Award-winning commentator for the sport, bringing with him his "infectious enthusiasm and love for the game", said Mr Silver.

He did so despite having a pronounced stutter for much of his early life.

"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," Mr Walton told radio host John Canzano 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."

Besides his entertaining commentary, Walton was often an easy-to-spot figure in the media booth, thanks to his bright tie-dyed T-shirts.

"What I will remember most about him was his zest for life," said Mr Silver. "He was a regular presence at league events – always upbeat, smiling ear to ear and looking to share his wisdom and warmth."

UCLA's basketball coach Mick Cronin added: "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."

Walton was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993.

He leaves behind his wife and four sons, including Luke Walton - a former NBA player and now an assistant coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers.