Antoine Walker was a hot mess. But he was our hot mess and I was a fan.
I don't really know how to put it any better than that. He was incredibly talented, supremely confident, given far too much leeway, and ultimately became the face of what was wrong with the 90's Celtics and perhaps basketball itself.
And yet, I loved Antoine Walker and still do.
To understand, you have to see where I was coming from. Sure, I grew up watching the glory years of the 80's Celtics, but I was a pre-teen at the time and only really understood that the Celtics were the best, period. My teenage years saw the Celtics break down and fade into obscurity. The team was mismanaged and mishandled and it was painful to watch. In short, I was starved for a winning Celtics team.
It wasn't until I was in college that Antoine Walker, Paul Pierce, and (I hate to admit it) Rick Pitino made the Celtics interesting again. Obviously Pitino was a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, but when he left and Jim O'Brien took over, something crazy happened. Against all odds, the team started winning.
In the center of it all was Antoine Walker. He was the emotional leader and focal point of the offense. Pierce was still very young and at the time he seemed perfectly willing to let Antoine Walker be the alpha dog in the lockerroom. Walker was Batman and Pierce enjoyed being Robin.
It turns out that Jim O'Brien might have been a pioneer of sorts. Long before analytics took the NBA by storm, he focused his offense on layups and launching 3 pointers. Nobody embraced that strategy more than Walker. The only problem is that he was never all that exceptional at actually hitting 3 pointers.
For two seasons in particular, Antoine's three-point volume was ginormous. Walker hit 221 of 603 three pointers in the 2000-01 season (both leading the league), and 222 out of 645 the following season (second in makes only to Ray Allen, and again leading in attempts).
The sheer volume of Walker's three-point attempts compared to his peers cannot be understressed. In the 2000-01 season in which he led the league in both makes and misses, only three other players with more than hundred makes could be accepted as being actual 'big men' (Tim Thomas, 107; Rashard Lewis, 123; Dirk Nowitzki, 151).
Simply put, efficiency matters more now than in the era of basketball Walker played in when, as Ian Levy wrote in his shooting profile of Allen Iverson’s MVP season: "quantity often obscured quality when it came to statistical achievements." So it’s understandable if Walker, whose career also started and ended at a similar time as Iverson’s, would remain an example of a high-volume, low-efficiency scorer.
Looking back, I have to give the younger (more naive) self a little bit of a pass. I allowed big box score number to blind me to his inefficiency. I bought into his never-wavering confidence. I was mesmerized by the wiggle.
When things were going well, the guy was remarkable on the court. People forget how well he rebounded. People forget he had great passing instincts. People forget that he was surprisingly mobile and agile for a guy his size. He was a point-stretch-power-forward that, had he been born in the modern era and coached up the right way, might have been an even brighter star today.
Unfortunately, his flaws caught up with him. By the end of his run in Boston I was able to figure out what his critics were saying for a long time. That Walker needed to go in order for the team to advance forward. Danny Ainge went so far as to indicate that Walker had a "stranglehold" on the franchise.
Now that I think of it, this isn't too much unlike the Rajon Rondo situation. In both cases I fell in love with their talents and turned a blind eye to their deficiencies simply because when they were on, they were a ton of fun to watch. But hey, being a fan is a funny thing like that. Sometimes loyalty and passion outweigh analytics and scouting reports.
Antoine Walker was a great example for what not to do (on the basketball court and with personal finances), but he was also a lot of fun to root for. So every once in a while, if I make an unlikely shot on the basketball court, I'll pull out my own Walker Wiggle as a tribute.
"Because there are no fours." Preach on Antoine.