Hall of Fame Center Bill Walton Dies, Age 71

Bill Walton, the Hall of Fame center who won two national titles with UCLA and two NBA championships with the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers and 1986 Boston Celtics, has died, age 71, after a years-long battle with cancer. The late superstar was surrounded by his loved ones as he passed away earlier today, according to the league.

Drafted first overall by the Trailblazers in 1974, Walton would go on to reinvent the center position through a lethal hook shot, earning him the NBA's MVP honors in the 1977-78 season, as well as winning Portland its first and only championship in the same year. A star in college and the pros, Walton was inducted in the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame and the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame in 1993 and 1984, respectively.

"What I will remember most about him was his zest for life," said NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in his statement. "He was a regular presence at league events -- always upbeat, smiling ear to ear and looking to share his wisdom and warmth. I treasured our close friendship, envied his boundless energy and admired the time he took with every person he encountered."

On-and-off the court, Walton was known for his jovial spirit that would translate seamlessly into broadcasting, first in 2002 for ESPN and ABC to cover pro games and later to college basketball a decade later. "They talk about [Nikola] Jokic being the most skilled center but Bill Walton was first!" said fellow Hall of Famer Magic Johnson via X. "From shooting jump shots to making incredible passes, he was one of the smartest basketball players to ever live. Bill was a great ambassador for college basketball and the NBA, and he will be sorely missed."

Walton is survived by his wife Lori and four sons, Adam, Chris, Luke and Nathan.