Scott Van Pelt gave a touching tribute to Bill Walton, calling him an "intergalactic force of nature" while celebrating his unique personality. Screengrab: ‘SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt’

There’s been an outpouring of tributes to the late Bill Walton, who lost his prolonged battle with cancer at the age of 71 on Monday. Countless sports media members have done a great job of eulogizing arguably one of the greatest college basketball players of all time and a broadcaster who transcended eras with his one-of-a-kind charm, knowledge and ability to be a crossword puzzle without any clues.

Perhaps the most touching tribute came from ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt. As always, he managed to tap into the story’s emotional core with his signature storytelling style and delivered a heartwarming eulogy that resonated with viewers far beyond the sports world.

“Sometimes the clues are laid out pretty clearly, aren’t they? The conference of champions said that’s a wrap, the Celtics are playing a game against the team coached by a member of the ’86 title team, and Bill Walton linked in ways large and small to all of that has passed away,” said Van Pelt during Monday’s SportsCenter. “‘A box of rain will ease the pain, and love will see you through.’ In every direction after this gut punch, the love for Walton was a blinding beam of light. I started pondering his life, and it’s amazing how many chapters could be their own standalone story.

“His UCLA days seem like a myth — a fish story. He actually went 21-for-22 in an NCAA Final. His reverence for John Wooden was a torch he carried all his days. Walton’s NBA tenure was decorated certainly — multiple rings, a finals MVP. Very different tenures in Portland than in Boston; had his body not broken down, who knows what he might’ve been? Arguably still on the list of best big men of all time, he was undoubtedly on the list of the world’s tallest deadheads.’Big Red’ easily spotted at shows around the world.

“Rick Carlisle shared the story Monday if Walton getting him tickets to see the Dead, not far from us in the old Capital Centre. He sent Carlisle to the backdoor; Walton told him to ask for Ramrod. Carlisle was far from a deadhead and he needed a miracle — Walton provided it. Carlisle’s date that night is now his wife.”

“The last act, many of our younger viewers know and consumed, it was Bill the Broadcaster,” Van Pelt continued. “He was to speak as he did an intergalactic force of nature. We had him on once after Oregon and UCLA, and he started talking about bears. Not the Cal Bears, but actual bears in Banff, British Columbia. He was roaring and growling. I just gave up and let him go, not that I could have stopped him or wanted to. His stream of consciousness that was the soundtrack to the sport was an on-ramp to his passions, his curiosities — the world, the people, the music, the food, the culture, the wildlife, the absolute joy of living his life and doing so with boundless energy and vigor.

“I admire that so as I do the stories of his generosity. They’re everywhere today. Read about the kindness that he showed Mike Breen and his father. Pay attention to the details of when Walton listened to those who were in awe of simply being in his presence share their stories with him. He remembered the details because he was interested. Do you know how rare that is for people who’ve been the center of everyone else’s attention to actually care enough to pay attention to anyone else? Bill did that.

“He closed his texts with ‘Shine on, beam on.’ He was a spiritual shaman. And while our time runs out because it’s finite, the universe is not. And he went on a joyride through its expanse, and now, anywhere there is light, I’ll just chalk that up to Bill Walton bounding through the cosmos. Shine on, big fella. Thank you for your life. What a joy it was that it crossed paths with ours.”

Walton’s impact on the world transcended basketball. He leaves behind a legacy of brilliance, warmth, and an insatiable curiosity about life. He will be deeply missed, but his light will continue to shine on through the memories of those who knew him, like Van Pelt.


About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.