CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginians who recently got to meet the late basketball legend Bill Walton say he had many passions in life including a love for reading.

Erika Connelly

Walton died Monday at the age of 71 after a long battle with cancer. He visited Kanawha and Jackson counties in Oct. 2023.

One of those stops included a tour of the Kanawha County Public Library’s Main Branch in downtown Charleston. Library director Erika Connelly remembers Walton being impressed by some of their recently completed renovations.

“He was surprised by some of the newer offerings that libraries have within their realm. I think what it meant to us is just sort of recognition of the process, the project, the renovation, but also reaffirming that libraries are still very important,” Connelly told MetroNews Tuesday.

The 6’11” Walton led UCLA to two NCAA championships in 1972 and 1973. He then led the Portland Trail Blazers to an NBA championship in 1977 and another NBA title with the Boston Celtics in 1986.

When foot injuries ended his career early, Walton stayed close to basketball, fighting through a life-long stutter, becoming a beloved sportscaster and commentator.

Walton’s love for reading came at an early age growing up in California. His mother was a librarian and he used books as a way to help improve his speech.

“Libraries are like music, they’re like sports, they’re like riding a bike. It’s like going to a concert. You never know what’s going to happen. You just open that book, and it takes you places that you cannot get to by yourself,” Walton told MetroNews in an Oct. 19, 2023 interview.

Walton’s message that day was that “anything is possible.” He said he wanted to inspire younger generations to never give up in chasing their dreams.

“We have no excuses for the things that we don’t get done,” Walton said. “There’s a moral obligation that we all have to carry on and to enable and empower the next generation coming up because we are the result of other people’s sacrifices, their discipline and their lives of honor.”

Connelly said Walton’s visit came at a great time.

“We got to celebrate the renovation of the building with somebody that was a superstar who you wouldn’t necessarily connect a basketball player to a library, but he was very excited to be here,” she said. “His own hobbies and things that drove him, he connected those to his mother and the love of a library. It was just a good feeling.”

Walton also spoke at the Jackson County Community Foundation’s 10th Annual Dinner that evening after leaving the library in Charleston.

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