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The basketball world has lost one of its most colorful personalities. Bill Walton has died

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The basketball world has lost one of its most colorful personalities. Two-time NBA champion and Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton died yesterday at the age of 71 after a prolonged battle with cancer.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Walton grew up in Southern California and at 6-foot-11 towered over the college competition at the time. He won two NCAA championships at UCLA in the early '70s. The Portland Trailblazers drafted him first overall in 1974, and he led the team to its first and only NBA championship in 1977.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: The baskets are down. Walton and the Trailblazers bring the battle to the crowd from the locker room - a world championship for the Blazers.

FADEL: Walton was named finals MVP after Portland beat the Philadelphia '76ers for that championship. Sixers head coach Gene Shue afterward described Walton as the best big man who ever played the game of basketball.

MARTIN: The following season, he was named regular season MVP, but his basketball career was cut short by chronic foot injuries.

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BILL WALTON: We decided to immobilize the joint so that it could get complete rest, and hopefully it will get better.

FADEL: Despite his injury problems, Walton won his second NBA championship in 1986, playing for the Boston Celtics. He called it the most rewarding title of his career.

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WALTON: This is what I wanted when I came here and these guys - they gave it to me. I can't tell you, you know, how much it means to me to win a world championship and after what's happened in my career, and those guys did it for me. You know, I just - I can't thank them enough.

MARTIN: Following his NBA career, Walton moved into broadcasting, and he definitely made his color commentary, well, colorful, with some interesting detours in his analysis, like when he compared French NBA player Boris Diaw to composer Ludwig van Beethoven.

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WALTON: It was 201 years ago today...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yeah.

WALTON: ...That Beethoven's "Symphony No. 3 in E flat," which escorted in the age of romanticism in music. And when I look at Boris Diaw, I think of Beethoven and the age of the Romantics.

FADEL: His most recent on-air partner, ESPN commentator Dave Pasch, talked about working with Walton on the Sports Media Watch podcast.

DAVE PASCH: Analyzing the game - it's too easy for him. It's the layup. So there has to be a twist - storytelling, comparisons, whether it's comparing a player to a great artist or telling the story of, you know, a coach and his family. I mean, he enjoys all that as much as he enjoys, if not more, the X's and the O's of a basketball game.

MARTIN: Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton - he died yesterday at the age of 71, after a life full of stories, both on the court and off. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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