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Bill Walton, Hall of Famer, dies of cancer at 71

By Tim Reynolds

AP Basketball Writer

Bill Walton was never afraid to be himself.

Larger than life, only in part because of his nearly 7-foot frame, Walton was a two-time NCAA champion at UCLA, a two-time champion in the NBA, a Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, an on-court icon in every sense of the word. And off the court, Walton was a chronic fun-seeker, a broadcaster who adhered to no conventional norms and took great joy in that, a man with a deeply serious side about the causes that mattered most to him.

“Bill Walton,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said, “was truly one of a kind.”

Walton died Monday at the age of 71 after a prolonged fight with cancer, the league announced on behalf of his family. He was the NBA’s MVP in the 1977-78 season, the league’s sixth man of the year in 1985-86 and a member of the league’s 50th anniversary and 75th anniversary teams. That followed a college career in which he blossomed while playing under coach John Wooden at UCLA, becoming a three-time national player of the year.

Walton, who entered the Hall of Fame in 1993, was one of the game’s most beloved figures. His NBA career — disrupted by chronic foot injuries — lasted only 468 games with Portland, the San Diego and eventually Los Angeles Clippers and Boston. He averaged 13.3 points and 10.5 rebounds in those games, neither of those numbers exactly record-setting.

Still, his impact on the game was massive.

Walton’s most famous game was the 1973 NCAA title game, UCLA against Memphis, in which he shot 21 for 22 from the field and led the Bruins to another national championship.

When Walton retired from the NBA he turned to broadcasting, something he never thought he could be good at — and an avenue he sometimes wondered would be possible for him, because he had a pronounced stutter at times in his life.

Turns out, he was excellent at that, too: Walton was an Emmy winner, eventually was named one of the top 50 sports broadcasters of all time by the American Sportscasters Association and even appeared on The New York Times’ bestseller list for his memoir, “Back from the Dead.” It told the story of a debilitating back injury suffered in 2008, one that left him considering taking his own life because of the constant pain, and how he spent years recovering.

But Walton will always be synonymous with UCLA’s dominance.

He enrolled at the school in 1970, before freshmen could play on the varsity team. Once he could play for Wooden, the Bruins were unbeatable for more than two years — Walton’s UCLA teams won their first 73 games, the bulk of the Bruins’ extraordinary 88-game winning streak. It was snapped against Notre Dame in 1974, a 71-70 loss in which Walton shot 12 for 14 from the field.

UCLA went 30-0 in each of Walton’s first two seasons, and 86-4 in his career on the varsity.

Walton led Portland to the 1977 NBA title, then got his second championship with the Celtics in 1986.

Walton died surrounded by his loved ones, his family said. He is survived by wife Lori and sons Adam, Nate, Chris and Luke — a former NBA player and now a coach.

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