The esteemed Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated profiles Antoine Walker and his ongoing attempts at a comeback.
Walker’s fall began a year after the championship, when the Heat traded him to the lottery-bound Timberwolves, who in turn shipped him to the Grizzlies, then one of the worst teams in the league. It was no place for a vet. Walker accepted a buyout in December 2008 and, at 32, left the league. A year later, in 2009, he was charged with a DUI. That same year, the Red Rock, Caesars Palace and Planet Hollywood casinos in Vegas filed a complaint after Walker passed bad checks and unsuccessfully tried to bargain for what he calls a “discount” on his gambling losses. Walker pleaded guilty to felony bad check charges and is currently on probation and saddled with a non-interest-bearing debt of roughly $770,000, which he likens to a “student loan or a house note.”
To get back in the clear, all he needs is one more one-year NBA contract, but that appears highly unlikely. Ask G.M.’s, coaches and front-office execs about Walker, and they will tell you that he isn’t on their radar. He’s not a role player, not young enough, not a defender. They worry about his effect on the locker room, about the example he might set. “Let me put it this way,” says one Western Conference executive, “if you have the pick of the bunch and could get Ryan Bowen, who was always a model teammate, or Antoine Walker, which one would you take?”
His current teammates and coaches are kinder. To a man, they say they like Walker. He is described as “99% good” and possessing, according to assistant Joel Abelson, “the best basketball IQ in the D-League by far.” But they also worry about him. “This is a safe haven for Toine right now,” says Livingston, his coach. “When you’re done here, no one’s going to care that you’re an All-Star.” Livingston would know. Once considered the best high school point guard in the country, he suffered a run of injuries and became one of the most acclaimed grinders in NBA history, playing for 10 teams in 11 years and setting a record with 19 call-ups from the D-League. The Stampede players now live their days hoping for that call. They invoke the story of Jeremy Lin and other less renowned cases of 10-day guys who hit pay dirt, the guaranteed contract. “There are a hundred Jeremy Lins in the league,” Livingston says. “They just need a shot.”
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