Monday, June 2, 2008

Why Antoine Walker Really Deserved His Championship Ring* (Re Up From 2006)

* This blog was originally posted on,, and MySpace on June 21st 2006

Antoine Walker was drafted as the savior of the Boston Celtics 10 years ago with the 6th pick of the 1996 NBA Draft. He was then forced to play all 5 positions for 2 years on a horrible team coached by M.L. Carr. He became the team leader as a 20 year old rookie fresh out of college after leading his Kentucky teammates to an NCAA title in his sophomore season. He often had to play the center position and guard Shaq when they played Orlando (Walker was just 6'9" 230 at the time! ).

He had some horrible teammates like Todd Day, Dino Radja, Brett Szabo, Marty Conlon, Acie Earl, Roy Rogers, Pervis Ellison, Eric Montross, Junior Burrough, Alton Lister, Todd Mundt, Doug Smith, Stacey King, Frank Brickowski, etc. He and Eric Williams were the teams only hope back then...then the Celtics brass traded Eric Williams to Denver for Tony Battie. That Celtics team went 15-67 on the season!

Rick Pitino came in and thought he was gonna get the 1st and 6th pick of the 1998 NBA Draft. He was going to get Tim Duncan or Keith Van Horn and a point guard....he ended up getting Chauncey Billups (and traded him away after four months!) and Ron Mercer (who never played defense!).

He did give Antoine two new centers so he could shift to his natural position (PF)...Travis Knight and Andrew DeClerq! Pitino moved him to power forward and made the team press every single a damn college team (Pro guards can ALL handle the rock!).

After that fiasco failed and Pitino was run out of town, everyone began to blame Toine for the Celtics inability to win. His once father/son relationship with Rick Pitino had completely deteriorated to the point that Toine and Pitino haven't talked since Pitino left Boston. Pitino became increasingly negative towards Walker during his time as coach, this falling out affected Antoine as well.

The local sports media crapped on him (Walker) nonstop (he was an Eastern Conference All Star starter and he was on the cover of Live 99). They brought Paul Pierce in via the draft in 1999 and the media immediately tried to play them against each other. They instead became friends and eventually Antoine Walker willingly deferred team star status to Paul. Who does that nowadays?

The Boston media made Paul Pierce out to be some kind of golden boy and painted Toine as some selfish jackass. He was, in actuality, the team leader. He sparked comebacks, he set up his teammates and put them in position to score. When things went bad he kept his teammates focused in pressure situations. He won several games for the Boston Celtics on clutch or impossible hoops.

All anyone ever talked about was how many threes he shot or his constant arguing with the referees. His trademark Walker Wiggle. His insistence on dribbling the ball a lot and him not being a better shooter from the free throw line.

Here in liberal Boston, many people are traditionalists when it comes to sports. Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson, Cedric Maxwell and Robert Parish didn't dance or celebrate or show their emotions on the court, so why should Walker? Younger people loved that he left it all on the court while older people just hated his game and overall demeanor..including many Boston area sportswriters and talk radio personalities.

After the NBA lockout and strike shortened season (1999-2000), even fewer older basketball fans were willing to embrace the superstar Walker and his antics. No one cared that he gave it his all and had little to work with thanks to the brass mismanaging the team. They just talked about his shot selection and how he spent too much time dribbling and on the perimeter and too little time in the paint. Not that he averaged 20 ppg 8 rpg and 5 apg regularly and that he led the Boston Celtics and never griped about being in Boston even though half the fans and most of the sportswriters really seemed to hate his guts.

The team floundered for a few more years, but Paul and Antoine became one of the best duos in the entire NBA. Their play complemented each other and Toine knew where to get to ball to Paul and often set him up to score. Once the team stayed together for a while, they started to gel. By 2001, the team was on the brink of becoming really special (and not like the Olympics).

All Antoine Walker did was bust his ass to win and once he and Paul Pierce finally built something in 2002 after years of struggling, (49 wins and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals including the greatest comeback in NBA playoff history fueled by Antoine Walker chiding his teammates). The Celtics were up 2-1 and were just 2 games away from facing the Lakers in the NBA Finals. They instead ran out of gas and lost three straight games to the Nets.

The owners went and screwed up any chance of the team improving by shipping Kenny Anderson off to Seattle for Shammond Williams (whom they also traded later) and Vin Baker (who was an alcoholic and a huge bust). They also failed to re-sign Rodney Rogers and Erick Strickland. Antoine never once said anything negative about the franchise after this deal nor did he make any negative comments about the Vin Baker trade.

He (Walker) was even supportive of Vin Baker's recovery! They drafted several busts, including Kedrick Brown and Joe Forte, and they traded away the one player with serious potential in Joe Johnson. They ended up rotating Tony Delk and J.R. Bremer at point guard, meaning that Toine was playing point guard on the court by default.

After Walker and Paul Pierce no one else was averaging double digits in scoring. The ball stayed in their hands and with no real lead guard to penetrate or create proper spacing, their shooting suffered terribly that season.

They won 44 games after winning 49 the previous year and their defense was never the same after Tony Battie was let go as well in favor of Mark Blount. Toine finally got heated now that Danny Ainge was made GM of Basketball Operations (Ainge used to spend the entire time he commented on the Celtics on TNT being overly critical of Toine's game).

The first thing he did on a Celtics home broadcast during a 2nd round Nets playoff game once his new position was announced was talk about how bad Toine was and how he wasn't going to give him anything near a max contract...This is an executive talking about a player...during a playoff game airing! The Celtics were swept out of the playoffs in the semifinals by New Jersey. The next preseason, Antoine Walker was shipped to Dallas.

The Celtics had an ugly season without Walker and Paul Pierce suddenly began to gripe publicly, ignore the media and scowl often. Now that Paul Pierce was the lone superstar of the team he wasn't dealing with the increased attention and the extra scrutiny well. Everything was now solely on his shoulders. Antoine Walker was the buffer that attracted most of the attention in the locker room (negative attention as well).

Toine led in many subtle ways that seemed insubstantial on the surface but really made that team work. He was their captain. The media that once painted Paul Pierce as a golden boy didn't know what to make of this new situation. Trade rumors abounded.

Once the new interim coach, John Carroll (O.B. bounced after having an intense argument with Ainge over the direction of the team) noticed Paul Pierce traveling with a bunch of leadership books and that the team would fall apart in key moments when they didn't before. He discussed this with his young son. His son responded by saying "When they used to get in a pressure situation Toine used to calm the team down...but he isn't there anymore".

The same coach was let go after being swept out of the playoffs by Indiana that season. John Carroll didn't have a snowballs chance in hell at inspiring this lifeless lot after his team put up a 14-22 record without its heart. They ended up with a 37-45 record and the team and its fans were irate.

Don Nelson pretty much made Antoine Walker a focal point of the Mavericks at the beginning of the 2004 season...they won some big games (53-29 on the season) and Toine was flirting with a triple double often as the Mavs won many big games with him leading them. Eventually, the idea of Waker being a "point forward" was shot down and he was remanded to the bench, rotated with Antawn Jamison and was forced to just rebound or rebound and pass (The players with the most triple doubles in the NBA over the past three or four seasons are Jason Kidd and Antoine Walker).

Without having consistent playing time or any real rhythm to his game, his game suffered and Dallas was bounced from the playoffs early (Toine scored 14 a game, 8 rebounds a game and almost 5 assists a game on a loaded team with no mental toughness or heart). He asked to be released/moved in the offseason and he was sent to Atlanta. He was tearing it up in ATL (but the team was young and terrible).

After Walker led a terrible squad through sheer will to an impressive win in January 2005 against the Boston Celtics in Atlanta the light went on for Ainge. Danny Ainge also saw that an increasingly withdrawn and somber Paul Pierce was about to demand a trade and that the team needed a leader and another scorer and rebounder. In that game alone Walker had 29 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists and he singlehandedly pushed his young teammates to a win against a team that was much better than they were (the Hawks were 8-30 at the time ).

Paul Pierce began to scowl more in public and he regularly butted heads regularly with new coach Doc Rivers. Paul was clearly at the end of his rope. Coach O'Brien was gone. Coach Carroll was gone. His boy Tony Battie was gone. His boy Eric Williams was gone. Walter McCarty was getting phased out of the offense and slowly being pushed out of the door.

The Celtics traded away Joe Johnson who was developing well in Phoenix. Ainge had to make a move. He had already brought in some firepower via the draft and trade (Kendrick Perkins, Al Jefferson, Justin Reed, Marcus Banks, Tony Allen, Delonte West, Gary Payton and Ricky Davis). He swallowed his pride, pulled the trigger and immediately got Antoine Walker back in kelly green.

The Celtics in 2005 reenergized interest in basketball in Boston at a time when the Patriots and Red Sox were challenging for titles and winning World Championships. The now loaded (after reacquiring Gary Payton) Boston Celtics went on an amazing run with Antoine Walker back and won the Atlantic Division title for the first time since the 1991-92 season (they went 19-9 to finish out the season and they rested the starters for the last two games of the season in preparation for the playoffs).

Fan interest in the Celtics was at a high not seen since the 2002 season and it’s playoff run. The Celtics were back in a big way with an exciting team on the floor that played entertaining basketball and the city of Boston was behind least for now.

They ran into a buzzsaw in that 1st round in an Indiana team that should've been a 2 seed instead of a 6 seed. Once all of the Pacers key players returned from injury, the Celtics lost the series in 7 hard fought games . Toine and Pierce received a lot of grief from the "fans" for some incidents that happened in that series...basically they got booed at home playoffs games often.

I was there and saw it with my own eyes and "fans" regularly called into talk radio stations and demanded for Pierce and Walker's immediate ouster. Considering that they wouldn't have even made the playoffs that year without Toine and that Pierce had the best season of his career that season it was unwarranted!. Eventually the C's would let Toine, Gary Payton and Ricky Davis all go from that squad.

Antoine came to Miami this season, sacrificed his personal game for the good of the team (although he still handled the rock like a point guard, drove to the hole and missed layups, shot a lot of tiptoe threes and still did the Wiggle) and won a much deserved championship after coming up big in the postseason and serving as the second leading scorer behind Dwayne Wade. Half of Boston is happy for you , # 8. Boston will always be his second home after the Chi regardless of where he plays.

Forget what Bob Ryan, Peter Mays, Mike Felger, and countless other writers and talking heads here say and have said about him. We true fans supported him from the beginning, rocked 8 jerseys and celebrated when he won his ring. I doubt they'll ever retire his number but I'd like to see him retire a Celtic and him and for him and Paul Pierce to both get their unis retired together. Here's to wishful thinking.


*I thought about posting this because Antoine Walker, much like Rasheed Wallace was a player that people thought would never win an NBA championship in his career for whatever reason ('Cism?). The Celtics now have a demonstrative, passionate player that shows his emotions on the court in Kevin Garnett. The sportswriters look past his histrionics because he's winning and playing basketball the "right way". Paul Pierce is once again beloved by the Boston press and sports fans and now the Celtics are the talk of the town.

See what happens when ownership and management are both competent? Hopefully Paul Pierce can get his ring in green after 10 long years in the NBA so I can write one of these about him in a couple of weeks.

One Two.


Small Pro said...

'toine and paul were a DOPE duo, i had forgotten all about their second run together

dude was always dope to me

great read

Suldog said...

I always liked Walker, but felt he wasn't the guy to build a team around. I always thought he'd make an excellent role player; your second or third option, or maybe a really great sixth man. He filled that in Miami, and it worked.

Dart Adams said...

Antoine Walker was one of my favorite all time players going back when he and Donovan McCabb were at Mt. Carmel in the Chi. I've always been a big fan of Illinois HS basketball.


Anonymous said...

Walker wasn't a sixth man in Miami. He played every playoff game as a starter and that is when they started WINNING but why let facts get in the way.

FYI he was also the second leading scorer in the NBA finals and was the only reason they got past NJ and a big reason they beat Chicego

Anonymous said...

Owners and managers are NOT competent.

Kevin Mchale gift wrapped Garnett and traded him for crap. Did you forget how bad the Celtics were before that trade? Last season even.

Anonymous said...

When Ainge was hired in the middle of a playoff run he said in his press confrence "We are here to turn things around"

"Winning playoff rounds is not enough"

Walker was so upset when Ainge was hired knowing what was going to happen that Maxwell had to sit him down and tell him not to worry about what moron Grousbeck HAD DONE AND WORRY ABOUT HIS GAME Only. That was game 4 where we were winning until Walker was fouled out on a phantom foul. One of two phantom calls against him.

The rumors about Ainge being hired started EXACTLY when that series was about to start. Knowing what Ainge has said about Walker and blaming him on air for Pitino being fired Walker had a bad series. Do you blame him?

Anonymous said...

RLMAO @ this Antoine Walker love affair dude was an asshole in person... and he wasn't all that as a basketball player. Pssst you Boston cats is in your own litle world.