Kemba Walker is coming off the best individual season of his NBA career, but that wasn’t the thing that gave him the most pride.
“Just winning, that’s really what it is all about,” said Walker, while watching Tri-State Classic games at Terminal 23 in Manhattan last weekend. “All the accolades always come as you win.”
The Bronx native and his teammates helped changes the perception of the Charlotte basketball franchise, which will change its name to the Hornets next season. As the Bobcats, the team was consistently one of league’s bottom feeders, but finished 43-39 and reached the playoffs for the second time in franchise history as the No. 7 seed last year — Kemba’s third season in the league. That season was a special one for him.
“It was very refreshing because we went through some rough years, of course,” Walker said. “There have been some down years in Charlotte. For us to have the year that we had is cool.”
Walker, a former Rice and UConn standout, was a big part of that. The 6-foot-1 point guard was a borderline all star by averaging 17.7 points per game, 6.1 assists and 4.2 rebounds during the regular season. Walker poured in 29 points in a Game 4 loss to the Miami Heat in the opening round of the playoffs.
The series sweep will only feed Charlotte’s hunger to win next season. The young Hornets return big man Al Jefferson and small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrest. Walker believes he and this group are already changing people’s perception of the franchise.
“I think we are,” he said. “We have some great young talent. I think we are getting better every day. I think people are starting to follow us now.”
He has enjoyed his time playing for Hornets owner and NBA legend Michael Jordan. His Airness gets an undeserved bad rap as an owner because of the team’s historic troubles in Walker’s eye. Jordan has been nothing but supportive of Walker and his teammates, the New York product said.
“He’s always around,” Walker said of Jordan. “He always helps us, anything we need. We ask him questions. Even non-basketball stuff he is there for us. He’s great in my eyes.”
Walker was happy to lay those eyes on familiar faces last weekend in New York. He also visited Hoops in the Sun at Orchard Beach. It is relationships with the New York basketball community that draws him back to the streetball scene.
Once the summer is over it’s back to the business of winning for him in an Eastern Conference he feels will be even deeper with all of the early free agent moves. Still, making the playoffs just isn’t good enough for Walker.
“I want to win,” he said. “That’s my main goal. I want to win. A championship. That’s the biggest thing.”