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Covington Native, NBA All Star Dies

He was a standout basketball player first at Covington Catholic, then at the University of Tennessee, and ultimately in the National Basketball Association.

Paul "Lefty" Walther passed away Sunday in Atlanta at the age of 87, UT reported Monday.

According to the university, Walther lettered at UT during two separate stints in the 1940s. After leading the Volunteers to the 1945 SEC Championship (18-5, 8-2 SEC) while earning first-team All-America honors from Don Dunphy as a freshman, Walther served with the Navy during World War II.

He would return to Knoxville and star for the Volunteers from 1947 to 1949, serving as team captain his senior year and earning second team All-American honors from The Sporting News.

"Lefty was probably one of the five best basketball players Tennessee ever had, and maybe the most entertaining one," retired Knoxville Journal sports editor Ben Byrd said, as reported by the unversity. "He could dribble the ball behind his back, through his legs; he did a lot of things to entertain the crowd."

"He could play anywhere," Byrd said. "He was 6-2, and he should have been a guard, but they played him at forward a lot (at Tennessee). He could jump into the post and go right around a big center. He was a great player and a really wonderful guy."

Walther was selected by the Minneapolis Lakers in the 1949 Basketball Association of America draft (the BAA later became the NBA), and played six seasons with Minneapolis, the Indianapolis Olympians, the Philadelphia Warriors and the Fort Wayne Pistons. He scored more than 2,800 points during his NBA career.

Walther also started alongside George Mikan for the Western Conference in the 1952 NBA All-Star Game.

After his professional playing career, Walther worked for Merrill Lynch in Chicago for 32 years, serving as vice president of institutional sales.

Walther was named to Tennessee's All-Century Team during the 2008-09 season and also was honored as UT's "SEC Legend" at the 2009 SEC Tournament in Tampa, FL.

He was a father of seven with 13 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, Dec. 27, at 11 a.m. ET at the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta. 

-Staff report

Photo via University of Tennessee