It wasn’t one of Kemba Walker’s more memorable performances where he scores at will and dazzles with crossover moves. But Thursday’s early November contest in the beginning stages of his ninth NBA season will certainly be one the veteran point guard remembers for a long time.
Walker made his return back to his NBA roots, playing in Charlotte at the Spectrum Center for the first time since signing a four-year, $141 million deal to become a member of the Boston Celtics this past July.
Walker received a warm welcome back in the place where he had spent all of his previous eight NBA seasons and it caused Walker to experience a whirlwind of emotions, especially when the Hornets gave Walker a video tribute just prior to tip-off.
“It was special,” Walker said. “Just to be back here and leading up to this day, there’s just been a lot of love. The video (tribute) just topped it off really. It was super special. It obviously made me really emotional. I was trying to hold it in, but I couldn’t. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to.
“It’s just a great feeling to know that they still have love for me even thought I left. To be back and get the reception I got was really cool.”
Kemba with tears in his eyes after getting introduced in Charlotte pic.twitter.com/bPKJZ776yw— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) November 8, 2019
After the video tribute, Celtics coach Brad Stevens even thought that Walker would be in for a “rough start” with everybody’s attention focused on Walker, who was a three-time All-Star with Charlotte and earned Third Team All-NBA honors last year while finishing as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer.
It felt like Walker knew the gravity of the event as he took the first shot attempt of the game just 12 seconds into the contest, missing a reverse layup. Walker took five shot attempts in the first half and didn’t convert any of them with his only points in the opening 24 minutes coming on three free throws.
Walker finally settled in during the third quarter, looking like the caliber of player he was when he morphed from the ninth overall pick out of UConn in the 2011 draft to a star guard during his tenure in Charlotte.
Walker netted 11 of his 14 points in the third quarter and finished 4-of-12 from the field, including a 3-for-9 mark from beyond the arc. But for Walker, his personal statistics didn’t matter much on this night, as he was just happy to have the C’s extend their winning streak to six games with a 108-87 victory.
“I was just off,” Walker said. “It’s just a part of the game. I thought I was missing. I just missed shots. I thought I took great shots. I don’t think the way I played had anything to do with the emotions or anything like that. My main focus was just to get a win, help in anyway possible and I thought I did.”
Walker, like he did during the pregame, handed out more hugs in the postgame to show his appreciation to former teammates and Hornets employees. He certainly was and still is a beloved figured in Charlotte after enduring it all with the meager organization — the Hornets went 7-59 during Walker’s rookie season.
Walker always played hard and turned the Hornets into a fringe playoff contender until his hunger for more wins and a chance to contend for an NBA title led him to Boston this offseason.
Walker said he had been so locked in this season he didn’t think about his return trip to Charlotte until after the C’s beat the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday. And once in the moment, it was everything Walker could have possibly hoped for. He didn’t have his best performance, but the night still belonged to him regardless, as the city of Charlotte showered Walker with praise, and deservedly so.
“I knew it was going to be a special time and a special night,” Walker said. “If I could do it all over again I would. I can’t lie. It was special. I was really, really looking forward to this day for a very long time.”