The Celtics have reportedly agreed on a four-year, $141 million max contract with point guard Kemba Walker. The free agent acquisition brings a University of Connecticut legend back to New England.
The 29-year-old Walker has been in Charlotte since he was selected 9th overall in the 2011 NBA draft. In that time, he’s totaled more points than any member of that draft, including No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving (and No. 60 overall pick Isaiah Thomas).
He’s made three consecutive All-Star teams and was one of the league’s top scorers over the past season, shouldering much of the offensive responsibilities with the Hornets.
Here are a few other things to know about Walker’s background:
He was a good enough dancer to perform at the Apollo Theater.
A large part of Walker’s game in the NBA is based on his incredible body control. While most of that is obviously due to thousands of hours of practice, it also has ties to another love of his: dancing.
As a child, Walker was part of a dance group that performed at Amatuer Night at Harlem’s Apollo Theater on multiple occasions. Though it might not show up in an extravagant display during warmups now, the origin of Walker’s agility has its roots in dance.
He was instrumental in UConn’s famous 2011 Big East Tournament run.
Heading into its conference tournament in 2011, UConn was far from guaranteed to get an automatic spot in that year’s NCAA Tournament. Looming in front of them was the daunting task of a Big East Tournament stacked with talented competition.
In an incredible display, Walker — then a junior and the team’s top scorer — led the Huskies to five consecutive wins in five days. It was highlighted by a dramatic buzzer-beater by Walker to defeat the University of Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals, and culminated with a victory over Rick Pitino’s Louisville in the final to win the tournament and secure an NCAA Tournament berth.
His crowning collegiate moment came at Brad Stevens’s expense.
After UConn reached the 2011 NCAA Tournament, Walker picked up where he left off as the Huskies’ leader. Games during the team’s run that year included a closely contested matchup with Kawhi Leonard and San Diego State in the Sweet 16, and also a clash with eventual 2011 No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams and Arizona in the Elite Eight. Each time, Walker and UConn came out on top.
After defeating Kentucky in the Final Four, Walker and his teammates found themselves matched up with Brad Stevens’s Butler University. It was a defensive and low-scoring game in which both teams failed to hit many of their shots. In the end, UConn survived, 53-41. Walker led the way with 16 points to help the Huskies get a third men’s basketball national championship.
Michael Jordan trash talked him at a 2011 workout before the draft.
Walker was selected with the 9th pick by Charlotte in 2011. Basketball legend Michael Jordan has a controlling stake in the team, and is very much involved with its front office decisions. As Walker explained in an interview with NBA insider Chris Mannix, Jordan trash-talked Walker about his inability to palm a basketball during a pre-draft workout.
“All I remember was he was talking trash, which he usually does a lot,” Walker told Mannix. “He was talking trash on the sideline, but it was fun.”
Yet on draft day, it was Jordan’s team that called Walker’s name with the franchise’s top pick.
He won back-to-back NBA Sportsmanship Awards.
In both 2017 and 2018, Walker was given the league’s award for sportsmanship. Though it lacks the prestige of other NBA awards, the selection is done through a vote from every NBA player, meaning that Walker was chosen by all of his peers.
“NBA players are intense competitors,” Walker said of winning a second time in 2018, “and it is truly humbling to know that my peers see me as someone who exhibits sportsmanship and respect on the court.”