The one time the great Bill Walton was color analyst on a Kentucky basketball game

Random notes:

Arguably the best college basketball player who ever lived, Bill Walton was more well-known as a broadcast analyst to a younger generation of fans.

His wacky, out-there style of color commentary could be polarizing. To those who actually wanted to watch the basketball game on the screen, it could be maddening. To the more casual fan, it could be wildly entertaining.

Walton, who passed away Monday at the age of 71, worked only one Kentucky college basketball telecast. That was the Wildcats’ 69-66 loss to Utah in Las Vegas on Dec. 18, 2019.

Ah, but Walton made it a memorable one in his own stream-of-consciousness way as he worked alongside his regular play-by-play partner, Dave Pasch.

Walton gave a shout out to Rex Chapman and UK fan Joey Palumbo. (“Did you ever see Rex Chapman play?” Walton asked Pasch.) He talked about Rolling Stones guitar legend Keith Richards. He discussed his favorite hot tubs. He talked about candles and said, “If you have to think to smile, you have to reevaluate your life.”

The former UCLA center complimented Kentucky’s program and loyal fan base — “And Big Blue Nation rises as one,” he proclaimed at one point — but he remained loyal to the Pac-12 while celebrating Utah’s victory over the then sixth-ranked Wildcats,

“The conference of champions is standing tall in the hub of the basketball universe,” he proclaimed, while also saying the outcome was “one of the greatest upsets of all time.”

Walton added: “For the rest of our lives, we will be able to say we were here when Utah beat Kentucky.”

For those of us who remember Walton as player, his 1973 national title game performance truly stands out. Walton made 21 of 22 shots from the floor on the way to scoring 44 points in UCLA’s victory over Memphis State.

Crazy stat: Walton won his first 73 games as a college basketball player. UCLA’s record with Walton on the roster was 86-4.

Bill Walton, a Hall of Fame basketball player before becoming a celebrated broadcast analyst, died Monday at age 71 after fighting cancer.
Bill Walton, a Hall of Fame basketball player before becoming a celebrated broadcast analyst, died Monday at age 71 after fighting cancer.

The only time I saw Bill Walton in person was during the Hall of Fame announcements at the 2013 Final Four in Atlanta. I remember he was having a difficult time walking, the product of the numerous foot and ankle surgeries that cut short his NBA career.

Earlier in life, Walton was shy and had a pronounced stutter. “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.”

Maybe the best Bill Walton quote: “When a doctor tells me I have one minute to live, I want to spend it at a basketball game.”

A dozen schools made an FBS bowl game, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and the NCAA Baseball Tournament: Alabama, Arizona, Clemson, Duke, James Madison, Kentucky, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Texas A&M.

By the way, it took UK all of 25 minutes to sell out its reserved seats for this weekend’s NCAA Baseball Tournament regional at Kentucky Proud Park. UK opens play Friday at noon against Western Michigan.

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