Bill Walton Was More Than Basketball

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Bill Walton Was More Than BasketballAllen Berezovsky - Getty Images

Bill Walton, a two-time NBA champion and Basketball Hall of Famer, died this past Monday following a battle with cancer. He was 71. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Walton's passing with a touching tribute, sharing, "what I will remember most about him was his zest for life."

For those unfamiliar with Walton's basketball accolades, the best way to understand Walton's unbridled joy is to turn back to a moment in 1974. Not just because the UCLA standout won national college player of the year honors for a third consecutive year, or because he was drafted No. 1 overall in the NBA Draft to the Portland Trailblazers. In 1974, Bill Walton finally met his favorite band in the world, the Grateful Dead. "Then things started to change, and did they ever change when I met the Grateful Dead," Walton told Relix in 2016. "They’ve never been the same since. I’m the luckiest guy in the world."

Even after Walton won two NBA Championships, the MVP Award, the NBA Finals MVP Award, the Sixth Man of the Year Award, and an Emmy Award as a color commentator for CBS, the Hall of Famer is still remembered most for moments that displayed his infectious ear-to-ear smile. Transitioning to commentary for ESPN after his successful NBA career, Walton often wore tie-dye shirts to games and wrote a 2016 memoir titled Back from the Dead.

"On the court, Bill was a fierce player, but off the court he wasn't happy unless he did everything he could to make everyone around him happy," NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote on social media. "He was the best of us."

Walton also overcame a childhood stutter before his career as a commentator, telling the press in interviews over the years that he chose to express himself through sports. "Beyond his remarkable accomplishments as a player," UCLA men's basketball coach Mike Cronin wrote in a statement, "it’s his relentless energy, enthusiasm for the game and unwavering candor that have been the hallmarks of his larger than life personality."

Walton is survived by his wife, Lori, and their four sons. Luke Walton, their third son, won two NBA championships with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in 2009 and 2010. The wins marked Bill and his son as the first father-son pair to win multiple titles in the NBA. Luke is now an assistant coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"I am very sorry about my good friend, Bill Walton," Celtics legend Larry Bird said in an official statement. "I love him as a friend and teammate. 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."

Now, the sports world is mourning—and celebrating—one of their most vibrant figures. You can read the tributes to Walton below.

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