Basketball icon Bill Walton, father of Arizona alum Luke Walton, dead at 71

How do you summarize one of the most legendary lives and influential personalities in basketball in just one article?
Dec 22, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; ESPN analyst Bill Walton during the game between the UCLA Bruins and the Maryland Terrapins at Pauley Pavilion presented by Wescom. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 22, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; ESPN analyst Bill Walton during the game between the UCLA Bruins and the Maryland Terrapins at Pauley Pavilion presented by Wescom. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After a battle with cancer and surrounded by family, Bill Walton died on Monday, May 27, at the age of 71. Walton was a larger-than-life character whose contributions both to the basketball world as a whole and the now-former Pac-12 are immeasurable.

In honor of the biggest proponent for the West Coast and the "Conference of Champions", let's take a quick glimpse into how Walton became one of the greats.

College years

Bill Walton
UCLA v Notre Dame / James Drake/GettyImages

Walton played his college basketball with one of Arizona's rivals: UCLA. He was there from 1971-74, playing in all four seasons for the Bruins. The Bruins teams that Walton was a part of weren't dealt a single loss until Walton's senior year.

In this time, UCLA won three national championships and Walton was a key player in two of them — remember that freshmen played on their own squads. He was named the USBWA and Naismith College Player of the Year for three years straight from 1972-74. This illustrious career led to him being selected first overall in the 1974 NBA Draft.

NBA years

Bill Walton
Los Angeles Lakers v Boston Celtics / Focus On Sport/GettyImages

The two-time NBA champion and Hall of Fame center played in the NBA from 1974 to 1988 with the Portland Trail Blazers, the San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers, and the Boston Celtics.

After they selected Walton first overall, he led the Trail Blazers to an NBA championship in just his third year with the team, also winning Finals MVP in the process. In Year 4, he was named the NBA MVP and was tapped to the NBA All-Star and All-Defensive teams.

He sat out the 1978 season due to a contract holdout, and signed with the Clippers ahead of the 1979 season. However, injuries were the prevailing narrative during his time with his hometown team, and the Clippers never finished above .500 with Walton on the roster. Pair that with the disaster that was Donald Sterling's ownership tenure, and you get a fantastical squander-job by the Clippers.

Following this underwhelming stint, Walton started ring-chasing. He sent calls out to the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics, and the Celtics answered the phone. He played in a career-high 80 games in Year 1 in Boston and was named the NBA Sixth Man of the Year en route to an NBA Championship — Walton's second.

His final year in Boston was once again injury-plagued, and he only saw action in 10 games. He entered the next season on the injured list and attempted a comeback in 1990, but his time on the hardwood was done.

Luke Walton

Florida v Arizona X
Florida v Arizona X / Ezra Shaw/GettyImages

In an Arizona context, Bill Walton cannot be mentioned without bringing up the contributions his son Luke Walton made to the basketball scene down in Tucson.

Luke Walton played at Arizona as a forward under Lute Olson from 1999-2003, where he notched two All-Pac-10 selections. He started in every game over his last two years, averaging 15.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 1.6 steals per game in 2001-02 and 10.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game in 2002-03.

Luke Walton went on to play in the NBA for 10 years. He was drafted with the second pick in the second round of the 2003 NBA Draft (32nd overall) by the Los Angeles Lakers, where he stayed until 2012. Despite being a reserve player, he earned a reputation for his selflessness with the Lakers.

His final three seasons with the Lakers saw Luke Walton be part of three straight NBA Finals teams. Though they lost the first one, the Lakers won in 2009 and 2010. Though many father-son duos have won NBA Championships, the Waltons are the only father-son duo with multiple championships on their resumes.

Media career

Bill Walton
Allstate Maui Invitiational - Day Two / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages

Immediately following his 1990 retirement as a player, Bill Walton shifted into the media sphere. He started with CBS from 1990-91, NBC and the Clippers from 1990-2002, and ABC/ESPN from 2002-09 before finally moving into a full-time basketball announcer role with the Pac-12 starting in 2012.

Especially in recent years with conference realignment, Walton has become one of the loudest proponents of both West Coast sports and the now-former Pac-12. He used his media platform to shout from the rooftops just how influential the "Conference of Champions" was on the greater narratives of college sports.

Walton was one of the most eclectic voices on the call for Pac-12 Basketball, but it never failed to be entertaining. His pairing with the ever-patient Dave Pasch was must-see TV, and he was well-known in the Tucson media scene as an interview staple.

It's only fitting that he got to see the last major sporting event under the Pac-12 banner, so today we're pouring one out, sending the best wishes to his family, and remembering all of the wonderful times both he and his beloved Conference of Champions brought to West Coast sports fans.

Rest in peace, Bill Walton.

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