Shimmying Off the Dust
Antoine Walker plays in the D-League, and he’s happy.
On this day, there are no Toine groupies. It’s just a man and his basketball.
“This definitely has to humble you after being an NBA All-Star,” says Stampede head coach Randy Livingston, a man who clearly identifies with Walker’s ups and downs. “I never had all the NBA fame, but when I was being recruited so heavily, I understand what he was going through. You find out who your friends are really quick.
“When you’re down, those people aren’t going to be there. He’s not going to find one of those entourage people with him in Boise. Do you think they’re coming out here or meeting us on the road in Bismarck?
“But knowing Toine for so long, I know he’s had a love for the game of basketball growing up in the neighborhoods where we grew up. Money or no money, it’s still for the love of the game. You play it because you loved it before, long before all of the fortune and fame. And at some point, you loved it before you ever thought about any of that.”
Livingston was the most sought after player in the country coming out of high school in the early 1990s. But he watched his NBA prospects begin to slowly fade after tearing his ACL before his freshman season at LSU. He still managed a solid college career before connecting with several NBA teams, mostly short stints with the exception of a regular role in Phoenix one season. But Livingston made it out of the D-League twice after getting sent down, forcing him to earn contracts with NBA teams. Now, he wants to help Walker do the same.
“I know Toine is going to make it back,” says Livingston, who started the process of acquiring Walker after Mike Procopio from ATTACK Athletics called him and shared Walker’s desire to play again. “I know he’s not in this for the money since this is the D-League, and neither is he out to make a mockery of the game. He’s in this because he loves playing basketball and this is his easiest way back to proving all the skeptics wrong. He wants to prove that he can still play and prove it to himself.”
He also has to prove it to NBA coaches if he’s ever going to truly make it all the way back. And he’s got a long way to go.
After his first three games with the Stampede, Walker is averaging 10.7 points per game and 6.3 rebounds in 24.7 minutes. The rust is still evident when the scene moves from a man and his basketball in an empty arena to a court full of hungry opposing players scratching out a living as they dream of their own NBA fortune and fame.
For now, progress is not top priority for Toine. Shaking the dust off of a former NBA proven commodity is.
“I came here with no expectations,” Walker says. “I was at home and not doing anything and it was tough — and I wanted to play. Would I love to get back into the League? Of course, without question. But I just want to play.
“I hope this experience can help me in all areas of my life. I’m very happy right now, and I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t feel like Coach Livingston was going to be behind me.
“For now, I want to come be a part of the team and help this team win. I didn’t set any goals, like if I don’t make it back in two weeks then I’m out. I just want to play. I feel like there are guys here who are two months ahead of me this season and I’m just trying to catch up with them.”
Whether Toine gets his fairytale ending and gets back to contributing meaningful minutes on an NBA team remains to be seen. But as much as his journey down to the D-League is about that, it’s not.
It’s just as much about a man trying to pick up the pieces of his life by returning to the only place where things have ever really gone well for him.