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Bill Walton's former colleague, Jim Gray, 'heartbroken' over death of 'best friend': 'A national treasure'

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The sports world lost an icon on Monday as basketball Hall of Famer-turned-analyst Bill Walton died of cancer at age 71.

Walton was loved by many, especially former colleague Jim Gray, who worked with Walton for several networks, and the two shared a friendship for 40 years.

"My heart is broken. Bill Walton was the best friend a guy could ever have," Gray sent in an email to Fox News Digital. "He was loving, generous, kind, caring, intelligent, and so much fun. He loved life, his family, basketball, and most of all, people. I always marveled at how he had time for everyone and was never in a hurry. Bill was a national treasure and brought joy to the world."

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Announcer Jim Gray, right, is shown with analyst Bill Walton during the Duke-Wisconsin game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on April 6, 2015. (John W. McDonough/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

"For 40 years, every time we were together, we would laugh," he wrote. "He was a library of knowledge and a fountain of wisdom. Broadcasting games together at CBS, NBC, ESPN, ABC, Westwood One, and the [Sacramento] Kings was a strange and wonderful journey. I'm grateful for all the years with Bill. It was the blessing of a lifetime. He will be in my heart forever."

"May God rest his soul and bless Lori, Adam, Chris, Nate, and Luke. Frann and I send our love, and we will always honor Bill's memory and be there for the Walton family, just as he was always there for us," Gray continued.

"Bill would always say, 'I'm the luckiest man in the world.'" No, Bill, I am, and we all are, because we knew you. Rest in peace, my friend."

Walton once credited Gray for saving his life in 2017 by finding his spine surgeon when he had been going through physical issues and his spine "absolutely collapsed and failed" nine years prior. Walton said he "had nothing" and contemplated the worst.

Bill Walton as a part of State Farm All-Star Saturday Night on Feb. 17, 2024, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. (David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)

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"My life was not worth living. I was going to kill myself. If I had a gun, I would have used it," Walton said. "But Jim called every single day, said, 'Bill, don't give up, you can make it …' He did everything he could to make sure I still had a chance."

Walton won three straight national player of the year awards from 1972 to 1974 before becoming the first overall pick in the 1974 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers. His impact on an NBA court was quick as the Trail Blazers would go on to win the 1978 NBA Championship, and Walton was named Finals MVP and the league MVP for that season.

Following his time in Portland, Walton moved on to the then-San Diego Clippers, where he spent four seasons, including his final one when they moved to Los Angeles. He joined the Celtics for the 1985-1986 season, helping them to the NBA title that year, and he was named the league's Sixth Man of the Year as well.  

Walton finished his career averaging 13.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game over 468 contests. He was named to the NBA's 50th and 75th anniversary teams.

Walton's color commentary was exceptional as he would always keep viewers - and his play-by-play partners - on their toes with wild stories from his playing days while providing excellent analysis and insight on the game at the same time.

Walton was also a father who passed the game down to his children, including Luke Walton, who won back-to-back NBA Finals with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 and 2010 during his playing days. Luke currently serves as an assistant coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers after previously head coaching the Lakers (2016-2019) and Kings (2019-2022).

Bill Walton (Ethan Miller/Getty Images/File)

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Chris Walton (San Diego State), Nate Walton (Princeton) and Adam Walton (LSU, Pomona College, College of Notre Dame) all played college basketball as well.

Fox News' Scott Thompson contributed to this report.

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