Bill Walton, a giant in NBA history, dies at 71

The renowned basketball player died "after a long battle against cancer."

(AFP) American center Bill Walton, winner of two NBA rings and member of the Hall of Fame, died this Monday at the age of 71 due to cancer.

The North American basketball league, which chose him twice on its list of the best players in history, said in a statement that Walton died "after a long battle against cancer" and "surrounded by his family."

"Bill Walton was truly unique (...) He redefined the center position with his unique abilities," described NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. "As a beloved member of the NBA family for 50 years, Bill will be deeply missed by all those who came to know and love him."

A collegiate star at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Walton had a short but extraordinary career in the NBA when he was drafted as a first-round pick by the Portland Trail Blazers in 1974.

In 1977, this intimidating 2.11m tall center reciprocated the franchise's trust by leading them to the only title in their history, and he was elected MVP (Most Valuable Player) during the NBA Finals against Julius Erving's Philadelphia 76ers.

In 1978, he was chosen MVP of the season and had already made two appearances in the All-Star Game.

In addition to his mastery of painting, Walton was recognized for his unmistakable 'hippie' air, wearing a ribbon on the front to tame his red hair in his early years.

An activist against the Vietnam War, Walton battled successfully against rivals such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the court until continued injuries slowed his career.

Chronic foot problems caused him conflicts with the Trail Blazers and led him to spend the entire following season on the bench.

"He spread joy"

In 1979, he left Portland to move to San Diego, then home of the Clippers. He played for this franchise for six years, but in two of them, he could not compete due to injuries.

"We have lost one of the best players and personalities this franchise, this sport and this region have ever known," the Clippers said Monday. "He defined the game as a player, as a commentator and as an ambassador, spreading joy for generations."

In his last stage in the league, Walton played for the iconic Boston Celtics, with whom he won his second championship in 1986.

Although the legendary Larry Bird exercised the team's leadership, Walton still reserved a key role for himself and was awarded Best Sixth Man on the court.

After playing 10 seasons in the NBA, Walton retired with averages of 13.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.2 blocks and began another successful two-decade career as a television commentator.

Among many other recognitions, Walton was part of the list of the 50 best players in history that the NBA compiled in 1996 upon celebrating half a century of existence. In 2021, he repeated his presence in that exclusive club, later expanded to 75 players.

His son Luke also played in the NBA between 2003 and 2013, achieving two rings with the Los Angeles Lakers, a franchise he coached between 2016 and 2019.