Former President Barack Obama called NBA legend Bill Walton a “champion at every level” in one of many tributes to the sports commentator, who died Monday after a battle with cancer. He was 71.

“Bill Walton was one of the greatest basketball players of all time — a champion at every level and the embodiment of unselfish team play,” Obama wrote on social media. “He was also a wonderful spirit full of curiosity, humor and kindness. We are poorer for his passing.”

Walton, a two-time NCAA champion, two-time NBA champion and the league’s MVP during the 1977-78 season, spent 10 years at the professional level despite a career plagued by chronic injuries. But his renaissance as a commentator brought new accolades, including an Emmy Award and a designation as one of the greatest sports broadcasters of all time.

NBA legends shared tributes to Walton on Monday night as the news spread.

“From shooting jump shots to making incredible passes, he was one of the smartest basketball players to ever live,” Magic Johnson wrote on X. “Bill was a great ambassador for college basketball and the NBA, and he will be sorely missed.”

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

“RIP to a legend on and off the court,” Steph Curry wrote on Instagram. “You might hear it all the time, but he Always brought the BEST energy and humanity to every room he walked in to.”

Walton was a major acolyte of the Grateful Dead, attending upwards of 850 shows and at times announcing nationally televised games in tie-dye.

“For me, the Grateful Dead, there are so many different reasons why I love it so much, but they give me strength, they give me confidence, they give me hope, and they make me believe that tomorrow is like, going to be even better,” he said in a 2016 interview. “And at the end of the day, when they run off the stage and get out of there, I’m out in that pit just saying, ‘Yeahhh, I’m with those guys.’”

He grew close with the band, which paid tribute to him on Monday, calling him an “irreplaceable force and spirit in our family.”

Walton was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 1993 after his time playing for the Portland Trail Blazers, the San Diego (now Los Angeles) Clippers and the Boston Celtics. After his professional run ended, he overcame a stutter to begin his broadcasting career.

“I lived most of my life by myself. But as soon as I got on the court I was fine,” Walton told The Oregonian in 2017. “But in life, being so self conscious, red hair, big nose, freckles and goofy, nerdy looking face and can’t talk at all. I was incredibly shy and never said a word.”

“Then, when I was 28 I learned how to speak,” he added. “It’s become my greatest accomplishment of my life and everybody else’s biggest nightmare.”


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