Bill Walton, NBA legend, dies at 71 | Basketball | Sports


Bill Walton, an NBA legend, two-time champion of the American professional basketball league, died this Monday at the age of 71 after a long battle with cancer. The center, who measured 2.11 meters, played for 10 seasons in the NBA, after also winning the national university championship twice with the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).

The Big Redhead, as he was nicknamed, was hampered by injuries throughout his career, but still left an indelible mark. His duels with another NBA legend, Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, will always be remembered. He was compared precisely to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, myths of the sport of basketball. After his retirement, he was a television commentator. He was married and had four children.

“Bill Walton was truly unique,” ​​said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. through a statement. “He redefined the center position. His unique skills made him a dominant force at UCLA and led him to be NBA regular season and Finals MVPs, win two NBA championships, and be part of the NBA’s 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams. “, has added.

Walton rose to stardom playing for the UCLA Bruins in the early 1970s. He won three consecutive college player of the year awards. In one of the finals of the two college national championships he won, the 1973 game against Memphis State, he made an impressive 21 of the 22 shots he attempted and scored 44 points.

However, dozens of injuries deprived Walton of the career to which he seemed predestined. Already in high school, he broke an ankle, a leg and several bones in his feet and underwent knee surgery. As a college student, he suffered tendinitis in his knees and injured his back. A chronic injury to his left foot plagued him throughout his career. During his 13 years in the league, he only played in 44% of regular season games and came away with a modest scoring average of 13.3 points. He even missed entire seasons. Of course, when he was healthy, he was almost unstoppable on offense and a rocky defender.

He was chosen by the Portland Trail Blazers as the undisputed number one in the draft in 1974 despite his injury history. He had a brilliant start as a rookie, averaging 16 points, 19 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 blocks on average in his first seven games, but foot problems limited his participation to just 35 games in his debut season. in which the Blazers could not squeeze their full potential.

In the 1976-77 season he was chosen for the All-Star Game (he did not play due to a new injury) and finished the regular season in the best defensive quintet in the NBA and in the second best absolute quintet. In the playoffs, led his team to the Western Conference title after sweeping the Lakers in the finals, after a memorable defense over the Los Angeles team’s star, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And in the NBA Finals, the Blazers defeated Julius Erving’s favorite Philadelphia 76ers 4-2, despite losing the first two games, a comeback that had only happened one other time before in history.

Bill Walton, in a 1978 game with the Portland Trail Blazers, against Dan Issel, of the Denver Nuggets.Jack Smith (AP)

The following season, Walton was shining in all his glory and the Blazers had won 50 of their first 60 games when he was injured. Despite missing the last stretch of the season, he was named the best player (MVP) of the regular season. He tried to recover for the playoffs against the Seattle SuperSonics and even played undercover. However, after the second game, X-rays showed that Walton had broken the navicular bone in his left ankle.

Walton demanded to be transferred and accused his club of failing to give him adequate medical care. He demanded his transfer and, after spending the 1978-79 season blank, Walton left for the Clippers, then in San Diego, where injuries followed. He played only 14 games in the 80-81 season and also missed the 81-82 season. Doctors told him that he would not be able to play basketball again, but in the end he had a successful operation and was able to return to the court, limiting his participation to one game per week.

A second title

He had better results in his last two seasons with the Clippers, but Walton wanted a winning team, even if he wasn’t the protagonist. He offered himself to the Lakers and the Celtics, then the dominators of the NBA, and ended up in Boston as a substitute for Robert Parish and Kevin McHale. In the 1985-86 season he participated in a record 80 games, although with an average of only 19.3 minutes.

He averaged 7.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.3 blocks per game, with a 56.2% field goal percentage. During the season he only suffered a broken nose, the 13th in his 13-year career. He achieved recognition as the best sixth man in the NBA, but above all, he achieved his long-awaited second ring in a final against the Houston Rockets and their Twin Towers, Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon. He retired the following season after playing only 10 games.

Off the courts, controversy frequently accompanied him. In the early 1970s, he was arrested during a demonstration against the Vietnam War and publicly criticized Richard Nixon and the FBI. He was a vegetarian for much of his life, wore multicolored headbands and was the number one fan of the psychedelia group the Grateful Dead. He attended more than 600 of the band’s concerts and even played drums at one of them.

After his retirement, he dedicated himself to commentating on the games. “Bill brought his infectious enthusiasm and love for the sport to the broadcasts, where he offered insightful and colorful commentary that entertained generations of basketball fans. But what I remember most about him is his enthusiasm for life. “He was a regular presence at league events, always upbeat, with a smile from ear to ear and willing to share his wisdom and warmth,” Silver said in his statement.

His son Luke Walton followed in his footsteps and also won two rings, in his case with the Lakers in 2009 and 2020. They are one of the five father-son pairs who have managed to win the NBA title. Only the father is in the NBA Hall of Fame.

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