Shimmying Off the Dust
Antoine Walker plays in the D-League, and he’s happy.
by Jason Chatraw
BOISE, ID – Long after his teammates hit the showers following the morning shoot around, Antoine Walker lingers on the court, draining threes to the applause of no one. But that’s OK with Toine. He’s not playing in the NBA’s D-League for the Idaho Stampede because he wants to give fans something to cheer about. He’s playing for himself, a chance to prove he did indeed leave the Association a tad early, as he claims. Yet, it’s a peculiar proving ground for a former NBA All-Star.
When news of Walker’s signing to the Stampede broke last week, local news media blew up. After all, this is Idaho. It’s where former NFL quarterback Jake Plummer remains in hiding after his Into the Wild moment transitioned to a life choice. It’s where you go to disappear, not be discovered.
Truth be told, Walker has plenty of reasons to disappear: bankruptcy, gambling debts, $1 million in fines levied by the city of Chicago for failure to properly keep up his properties. Since retiring from the NBA at the end of the ‘07-08 season, Walker traded in the adulation of adoring fans for a relentless assault on his character and an endless list of allegations.
Yet, it’s hard to imagine him as some lawless monster while his 34-year-old body rests rather uncomfortably on a wooden locker room bench against a sterile white cinder block wall within the bowels of a D-League arena. With ice packs strapped to both of his knees, Toine — the oldest of six kids to a single-parent mother — tells his side of the story.
“It was a blessing for me to make it in the NBA,” Walker tells SLAMonline. “And I felt like it was my job to help my family and friends and put them in better life situations. But I think there’s a misconception out there of what happened.
“I went into the real estate market and I got caught in the recession. I’m not a Fortune 500 company and I’m not able to withstand a recession. I put my own personal finances up against it and got caught in that. I owned a lot of real estate in Chicago through my companies and then the market went bad. There’s nothing I could do about it.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed because I’ve had to change my lifestyle so much, but at the same time, I don’t feel bad. There were a couple of years in there where I reaped a lot of benefits. Would I do things differently? Yeah, but only small things, nothing major.
“If you would’ve told me the market was good and I could make a ton of money in it, I probably would’ve done the same thing, but at the same time the one thing that I wish I could do differently—and I would tell anybody else this—would be to wait until my career was over before I started investing. You have to be able to watch your own money. I wasn’t able to watch it.”
What Walker has left these days, he’s able to watch just fine. Taking bus rides from Boise to Bakersfield or Reno or Bismarck gives you plenty of time to watch anything and think. After some soul searching and deep reflection, Walker realized he needed to watch who he hangs around. These days his “entourage” amounts to a coaching staff and his close-knit teammates, who live together in a team-subsidized apartment complex. He’s already realizing what it’s like to have people in your life who truly care about you for who you are, not because you have an NBA ring or three All-Star Game appearances or even a dozen years in the League.
“Without question it was difficult to tell who your real friends were,” Walker says. “Everybody—starting with families to friends to girl friends or people you dated. When I was growing up, I tried to judge people for their character, not really trying to see if they had a hidden agenda behind our friendship.
“But now I know who my real friends are. As I’ve been going through this stuff over the last couple of years, I’ve been able to find out who my real friends are because they’ve stuck with me. What people don’t realize is that it’s not always about money. Sometimes, it’s just picking up the phone and calling to see how you’re doing. People don’t have to give you money. It’s nice to have someone show they care about you.
“When you go through trials and tribulations, most people will just sit back and watch. They want to see you down fall or go under, but I come from too strong of a background to do that. I have two beautiful girls, therefore I have two people to live for. I have a mom who taught me how to be tough. I was raised without money, so I can deal with this.”
This is a far cry from the glitzy NBA lifestyle that Toine lived with somewhat legendary flair, and an entourage that rolled so deep it had its own entourage. His mother estimated that one point, Walker was supporting up to 70 people, which would more than double the population of nearby Atlanta, ID.