UTAH JAZZ

Danny Ainge Remembers Late Teammate Bill Walton

May 30, 2024, 2:40 PM

Members of the Boston Celtics 1986 championship team Bill Walton and Danny Ainge are honored....

Members of the Boston Celtics 1986 championship team Bill Walton and Danny Ainge are honored (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah Jazz CEO Danny Ainge was among the many to eulogize NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton who passed away this week at age 71.

Walton and Ainge were teammates for two seasons with the Boston Celtics between 1985-87 and won an NBA title together in 1986.

Ainge appeared on SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt to remember his former idol and teammate.

Danny Ainge Remembers Bill Walton The Player

Ainge’s first memories of Walton came before the two players shared the court in Boston.

Growing up in Oregon, Ainge first saw Walton during his legendary college career at UCLA and followed him as he led the Portland Trail Blazers to their only title in 1977.

“I got a chance to meet him in ’75 or ’76, the summer at a Blazers basketball camp, and he always remembered that,” Ainge said. “in 1986, when he joined the Celtics, he had remembered that and remembered me as a player.”

Walton won back-to-back titles at UCLA in 1972 and 1973 before the Trail Blazers selected him with the top overall pick in the 1974 NBA Draft.

Though injuries derailed his career, Walton managed to capture two NBA titles, a league MVP, a Finals MVP, and a Sixth Man of the Year trophy in just career 468 appearances.

“In 1977, I still think [that] is one of the most incredible individual performances in NBA playoff history,” Ainge remembered. “What Walton did with that Portland Trailblazers team to win the championship, start out 0-2, to come back and win four straight games — he was so good.”

Ainge Remembers Walton Off The Floor

Though Walton is regarded as one of the greatest players in NBA history, his personality off the floor often eclipsed his accomplishments on it.

“He was just a character, he had a lot of beliefs, a lot of political views, he talked a lot about what a great chess player he was,” Ainge said. “He was so unique in every way.”

Despite just joining the Celtics in the summer of ’86, Walton surprised his teammates by making an impromptu departure from the roster as they geared up for the season.

“He says, I’m sorry, guys, I’m going to be gone for the next three or four days,” Ainge remembered. “It was like, ‘What do you mean you’re going to be gone, we’re getting ready for the season?’ He says, ‘I’ve got to go to South Dakota for an Indian Reservation sit-in.'”

After retiring in 1988, Walton became a television analyst with the NBA on NBC before calling PAC-12 college basketball games with partner Dave Pasch.

“I always loved going to watch him and Dave do their games and would always say hi to Bill and we’d talk for five or 10 minutes,” Ainge said. “We’ve exchanged texts back and forth over the last couple of weeks when he hasn’t been doing well, and to the very end, he just cares more about everybody else than he does himself.”

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Ben Anderson is the Utah Jazz insider for KSL Sports and the co-host of Jake and Ben from 10-12p with Jake Scott on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone. Find Ben on Twitter at @BensHoops or on Instagram @BensHoops.

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Danny Ainge Remembers Late Teammate Bill Walton