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Basketball mourns Walton, an NBA centre of excellence

Hall of Fame centre Bill Walton, a two-time national champion at UCLA and two-time NBA champion, has died aged 71 after a prolonged battle with cancer.

Walton, who overcame a stuttering problem to become a beloved broadcaster, was surrounded by family when he passed away on Monday (Tuesday AEST).

"Bill Walton was truly one of a kind," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement.

"As a Hall of Fame player, he redefined the center position. His unique all-around skills made him a dominant force at UCLA and led to an NBA regular-season and Finals MVP, two NBA championships and a spot on the NBA's 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams. Bill then translated his infectious enthusiasm and love for the game to broadcasting, where he delivered insightful and colorful commentary.

"But what I will remember most about him was his zest for life. He was a regular presence at league events - always upbeat, smiling ear to ear and looking to share his wisdom and warmth.

"My heartfelt condolences to Bill's wife, Lori; (and) his sons, Adam, Nate, Luke and Chris."

UCLA centre Bill Walton (32).
UCLA centre Bill Walton (32) shoots for two of his record 44 points against Memphis State in 1973. (AP PHOTO)

Walton was the No.1 overall pick in the 1974 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers, who he led to their only NBA championship in 1976-77. Named league MVP in 1977-78 and the Sixth Man of the Year in 1985-86, he added a second ring as a member of the 1985-86 Boston Celtics.

Walton was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993 and the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.

The two-time All-Star and 1977 NBA Finals MVP averaged 13.5 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.2 blocks in 468 games during an injury-plagued 10-year career with the Blazers (1974-78), San Diego/LA Clippers (1979-80, 1982-85) and Celtics (1985-87).

Bill Walton (right) took on the Nuggets' Dan Issel.
Trail Blazer Bill Walton (right) took on the Nuggets' Dan Issel in this 1978 NBA clash. (AP PHOTO)

"Bill Walton was a true legend - an extraordinary player, talented broadcaster and vital part of the Blazers organization," the Trail Blazers said in a statement.

"His mastery of the game not only established him as one of the greatest centers in history, but also led the Blazers to a championship in 1977.''

The 6-foot-11 (about 211cm) Walton missed several entire seasons with foot and back injuries that required multiple surgeries.

Born in La Mesa, California, on November 5, 1952, Walton led Helix High School to 49 consecutive wins and two state titles before heading to UCLA.

There, he became a three-time national college player of the year and helped the Bruins win a record 88 straight games, including NCAA Tournament victories in 1972 and 1973. In the 1973 final against Memphis State, he tallied 44 points on 21-of-22 shooting.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who preceded Walton at UCLA and was his contemporary in the NBA, posted a farewell to social media.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (left) and Bill Walton.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (left) said Bill Walton (right) was a wonderful person and a talented player. (AP PHOTO)

"My very close friend, fellow Bruin and NBA rival Bill Walton died today. And the world feels so much heavier now," Abdul-Jabbar wrote.

"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. He was the best of us."

Off the court, Walton was also known for his political activism and passion for the Grateful Dead.

Walton overcame his speech impairment in his 20s to become a broadcaster for CBS and NBC in 1990, before moving on to LA Clippers broadcasts and eventually ABC/ESPN in 2002.