The Legendary Basketball Player and Wacky Man, Bill Walton, Dead at 71

Jim Thompson

Love him or loath him, Bill Walton was one of a kind. A man of legendary talent and legendary wackiness. Walton died of cancer at the age of 71 on Monday. Tom Hoffarth, a buddy of mine who wrote for the LA Daily News and the Los Angeles Times, knew him and interviewed him more than once. 


He wrote

We align with those who refer to him as a “national treasure” and an example of “a sonic voyage … of cosmic exploration.”

As we talked to Walton recently, he was in the passenger seat of his car with his wife, Lori, doing the driving. We asked if he was aware of the volatile social media debate he sparks every time he’s on TV.

“Lori, do I pay attention to social media?” he asked.

Probably not a good time to ask. As they were driving from Death Valley to Westwood on Interstate 15, a dust storm was amidst and visibility was limited.

After a long pause, Bill came back on the line: “Lori says no!”

He seemed to be howling in concert with the winds whipping outside his window.

“The world we live in now .. for so long, we have had dreams, and worked hard and tried to be intelligent about them,” he continued. “Today, if you have a thought, in literally the shortest period of time, that nanosecond, it becomes reality and part of a larger collaborative community. I take my responsibility very serious and take pride in it.”

I was on the “love end” of the "what do you think about Bill Walton?" scale. Although I found him often insufferable and often wrongheaded when he would argue with his announcer teammates while covering and doing color for college basketball, I was still a fan. He was wacky and one-of-a-kind, and I loved him for that. It may have been my lifelong love of UCLA athletics or that Walton seemed to be a man who just loved life. But notwithstanding his silly comments, I always “liked” him – as if he was that weird but loveable relative that would say something and everyone would look at around the room and say... "Huh what?"


Here is Walton doing "color" at a baseball game. What did Walton know about baseball? Who cares.

When I was asked to illustrate Bill Walton for an article, I was honored to do so. The author told me to “Send Bill some copies, chances are he’ll send one back, signed." Walton did indeed sign a copy, and he also sent it back, along with about 20 photos of himself. I had to chuckle at the unneeded additions, but I was eternally grateful for him signing my cartoon. It hangs on my wall of fame. 

UCLA’s Mick Cronin told the New York Post in the obituary, linked above

“It’s very hard to put into words what he has meant to UCLA’s program, as well as his tremendous impact on college basketball,” UCLA head coach Mick Cronin said in a statement. Beyond his remarkable accomplishments as a player, it’s his relentless energy, enthusiasm for the game and unwavering candor that have been the hallmarks of his larger than life personality.”


I for one will miss his wacky, loveable personality. RIP. 


Join the conversation as a VIP Member

Trending on RedState Videos