After Buyout, Bronx Native Kemba Walker Will Sign With Knicks: ‘It’s Exciting For The City’
Moe Hicks first saw Kemba Walker when Kemba was 13 years old, and he was automatically impressed by his talent and poise.
“He was actually playing against my son at Milbank and I was like, ‘Wow, who is this kid?’ He was giving my son a fit out there,” Hicks recalled Wednesday by phone.
The former Rice High School coach recalled the memory after learning that Walker will sign with his hometown New York Knicks after agreeing to a buyout with the Oklahoma City Thunder, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Walker, 31, will return home to New York and Madison Square Garden and serve as the point guard for Julius Randle, R.J. Barrett, his former Celtics teammate Evan Fournier and the rest of the Knicks as they look to build upon their first playoff appearance since 2013.
“He’s a level-headed kid, he’s a professional and he’s going to come here and he may have to block a few things out because there’s going to be a lot of people coming at him at the same time,” Hicks said, but he’s smart enough and professional enough that he’ll come in here and he’ll handle his business on and off the court.”
A four-time All-Star, Walker averaged 19.3 points and 4.9 assists in 43 games for Boston last season while battling a left knee issue. He missed the final two games of Boston’s first-round series loss to the Nets with a bone bruise in that knee.
“It’s tough,” Walker said of having to watch playoff games after watching Boston’s season-ending 123-109 loss in Brooklyn in Game 5 of that series, per ESPN.com. “It’s been really tough especially because over the course of my career, I’ve played so many games when I’ve been healthy.
“I came to Boston to be a part of those special runs and be a part of high-intensity games and fans going wild, and I wasn’t able to be a part of that unfortunately. Just try to get right. I gotta get right”
The Celtics then dealt Walker to the Thunder in June in an effort to clear cap space.
With Walker, Rice won the Catholic League AA title in 2007, and his team also won games at the Garden over Derrick Rose’s Chicago Simeon team and a Dan Hurley-coached St. Benedict’s Prep team in the Nike Super Six.
Rose, who just re-upped with the Knicks in free agency on a three-year, $43-million deal, had 22 points in the 53-51 loss to Walker and Rice on Jan. 14, 2007.
“I remember those experiences, he was very excited to play at the Garden during that time when he was in high school,” Hicks said.
Of course, Walker also led UConn to the Big East Tournament title at the Garden in 2011 — winning five games in five days – and went on to lead the Huskies to the NCAA championship.
The capacity crowd of 19,375 for the Big East final included then-Knicks star Carmelo Anthony in the front row and then-ndiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson. Walker finished with 19 points on 6 of 14 shooting against a Rick Pitino-coached Louisville team in the final and set a new national record for points in a postseason tournament with 130 in five games. Walker shattered the previous Big East tournament record of 84 held by Syracuse’s Eric Devendorf in 2009.
At one point early in the second half against Louisville, Pitino pleaded with the officials not to give Walker preferential treatment after he was fouled on an off-balance layup attempt.
“He’s not Michael Jordan, he’s not Michael Jordan,” Pitino shouted. Told of that comment, Walker said, “I’m not Michael Jordan, I’m Kemba Walker.”
Now Walker is back home with the Knicks, hoping to make some more magic.
“I think it’s exciting for the city, I think it’s exciting to see him come home and play for the New York Knicks,” Hicks said. “He has a lot of family and friends still here that will definitely be excited about this opportunity.”