‘Toine’s Shine and Blackout
You saw a life brimming brightly, and you just wanted to snuff it out—didn’t you, Kramer?!
by Sandy Dover
Like the homicide detective who interrogated Cosmo Kramer in the Seinfeld episode “The Trip,” Antoine Devon Walker, born and raised in Chicago, was that very life to me. His very NBA career seemed to be a star that would shine until it just couldn’t shine much more, a star of enthusiastic exuberance and meaning.
Unfortunately for Mr. Walker, he’s much more representative of a quasar, a piece of matter that glows and streaks across the cosmos, but lacks the substance that sets it apart from all other bits and pieces of the universe—Antoine Walker got snuffed out.
I always felt Antoine was legitimately the next player of the League. He was well-coached, highly-skilled and possessed an ability to affect a game in a very tangible way, not the same way that Magic or Pippen did, but somewhere in that realm, especially at Kentucky and in his first two Celtics years.
The problem with Antoine is generally the same problem that plagued Derrick Coleman and Rasheed Wallace—he just didn’t care enough. He didn’t care that he could’ve been the greatest power forward to play.
Whereas DC wanted to collect his money, and Rasheed hides his apathy behind a boisterous personality, Antoine was extravagant in many ways. I always adored his shimmy shake, and I loved that he was virtually unguardable when he actually was really trying to win. But those times as a professional really seemed rare, and sadly enough, the acquisition of Paul Pierce as a co-alpha dog contributed to his nonsensical play, almost as if he acted out to gain attention.
If you consider wild three-point shots early in the shot clock and the unnecessary, but entertaining crossovers “acting out,” then he certainly would’ve merited a coach’s version of a parental spanking. Nevertheless, he really made me want to play ball (and buy his adidas Top Ten 2010—classic!).
I want to say rewarding him too early created Antoine “The Obtuse.” He became too self-conscious and too irresponsible for his own good. He got paid too early (with a max-like extension after his third season), and he wasn’t responsible enough to himself or to his team to maintain good play.
Antoine fought a bit for attention, knowing that PP (…) was “The Truth,” literally. But, really, Antoine was the truth all along, but he probably didn’t believe enough in his game, considering he wasn’t a sexy shooting swingman (sort of hard to believe considering the appearance of Paul and his game). In truth, Walker didn’t need to be anything but himself. Had he just did him, he would’ve received the attention he wanted—that’s how he got an adidas commercial and several signature (and very fresh) shoes in the first place—nobody could be Antoine but Antoine.
Not a kid from Inglewood via Kansas, not a city slicker coach in the commonwealth of Kentucky, not a dried-up Dino Radja or future ex-Mr. Vanessa Williams—nobody was as uniquely cool of a player as Antoine Walker. And it’s pathetic that many people won’t remember this about him. He was a novelty in many ways.
His failure to realize his legacy-to-be as a true power forward who actually played all five positions well is a disservice not only to his admirers, but a monumental disappointment to himself. Yes, Derrick Coleman was a 4 who could shoot and defend all three frontcourt positions (for a little while) and Rasheed is both explosive and patient as a postmaster/scorer/defender, but Antoine was somebody who could literally do everything, and seemed to be noble in his do-it-all play… just not noble enough to know when to play to his strengths.
Most people won’t remember Antoine. Most will talk about Tom Chambers, Rasheed, Cliff Robinson, KG and Dirk as the premier versatile forwards (all being around 7-0). Antoine was a failed Pippen in the truest sense. Antoine, at his best, could’ve played with any superstar if he wanted.
He could’ve been a superstar on his own, being the best that he could’ve been. Sadly, Employee No. 8 stopped being that dream light years ago, and he became a mere mirage, a false prophetic image. I will mourn not only that, but that he didn’t see it for himself when it was most vital to his career. Or maybe he does. Or maybe really just doesn’t care.