I may just lose what little credibility I had, but I’m going to put it all on the line and admit it. I am an Antoine Walker fan. There I said it, and I feel better for it.
Allow me to save some face by saying that I do not believe for one second that the team would be better off with Walker still on the team. He is clearly the wrong man for the team that Danny Ainge is putting together. Like every Celtic fan, he drove me mad with his 3 pointers, his selfishness, his inconsistency. But I couldn’t help it, I loved the guy.
Here’s the thing. I’m a sucker for a guy that shows great talent. I was as big a Kedrick Brown fan as there is. I’m holding out hope that Marcus Banks is really a point guard. I just have a fascination with guys that have the tools to be great.
I don’t think anyone could argue that Walker was a great talent. (notice that I do use the past tense a lot) He had some of the best dribbling and passing skills by any big man in the league. (notice I said he had "passing skills" not "he was the best passer") Early in his career, he was a rebounding force. Easily averaging 10 a game. That spin move he makes on the baseline left many defenders grabbing for air. He threw up the ugliest shots known to the game, but had enough touch to make a ton of them drop. He fell in love with the outside shot, and as average of a shooter as he was, he made the defense adjust to him because of it.
He even had the cocky swagger and leadership voice that could have (and often did) unify the team behind him. He was also able to defer to Paul when he was going well, and pick up the slack when he wasn’t. You need look no further than the Lakers to see the difficulty of such a balance.
Then there was the Walker Wiggle. That stupid shimmy that he did when he did something good, sometimes at the most inappropriate times. It was like a linebacker celebrating a sack when the team was still down a touchdown. But I loved it. I could connect with that kind of emotion because I was just as happy as he was when he did great things.
He had all the tools to be a great player. But he never put it all together because those same tools brought his whole game down. There’s the rub. His early success gave him a leadership position on a young team. That gave him way too much freedom. By the time Pitino got to him, he was set in his ways. For all his shouting and directing, he needed Walker to be Walker if he was going to win any games (which he seldom did anyway). O’Brien just turned Walker completely loose, and he had some real success from it.
That’s the thing. Walker was good enough to win just by improvising with his great talent. Being able to do so, he never had to focus his energies on making himself great. He never was able to direct it towards elevating his game and making those around him excel for it. Things came so easily for him that perhaps he never found that burning desire to improve that guys like MJ had. I’m not questioning his heart. I’m just saying that something didn’t click. He never put it all together.
He gave us many happy memories and he put a pudgy, grinning face on the Celtics even when things were not going that well. For that and the reasons stated above, I’ll always have a warm place in my heart of Antoine Walker. I’ll even continue to root for him to do well (as long as he doesn’t join the Knicks). But witnessing the deterioration of his game and increased selfishness of his attitude since leaving Boston, I am increasingly glad that he no longer is part of the Celtics.