Antoine Walker has trouble folding his 6-9 frame into what, for a normal-sized human being, is a luxurious movie theater chair in the private screening room at the Crosby Street Hotel in Manhattan. So he sits up on the armrest, one leg stretched out into the aisle. He’s wearing a pair of all-white Air Jordan Is, jeans and a black t-shirt under a suede track jacket.
What’s striking about Walker now, beyond his trademark smile and his unmistakable size, is how comfortable he is—despite the brutally honest documentary we’ve just watched and, of course, our seating arrangement.
Coming in 2015, Gone In An Instant: The Antoine Walker Story chronicles the former NBA superstar’s rise and fall in professional basketball, from a three-time All-Star and World Champion with more than $110 million banked over a 13-year career to a man in so much gambling debt that he faced felony charges and bankruptcy. Even for those well-versed in Walker’s struggles, the documentary is an eye-opener.
How does a $100 million man go broke? There was the jewelry, the clubs, the gambling, even the all-expenses paid trips for 50 friends to party in Cancun for a week. “We’d get on the G5…and order Popeye’s chicken on the G5,” childhood friend Mike Irvin jokes at one point during the film. Couple Walker’s lavish lifestyle with some poor investment decisions—”Antoine had more women than he had shoes. And he had a lot of shoes,” his friend Shorty says bluntly—and, poof.
‘Toine talks softly but openly about the film, about the friends and hangers-on, about his downward spiral out of the NBA that eventually led to a brief, humbling stint in the D-League before he finally called it quits. He says he only wishes he could have walked away from the game on his own terms, and that his mission today, cleared of bankruptcy, is to educate the next generation on financial literacy.
The film itself, directed by Anthony Holt, includes interviews with Gary Payton, Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Shawn Marion and more. It traces Walker’s life from his earliest playing days, including playing high school ball at Mount Carmel HS in Chicago alongside Donovan McNabb, where he was oft-compared to Magic Johnson for his unique skillset, all the way through his final NBA buyout in Memphis, which he still regrets. In between, Walker and friends narrate the good and bad. Like losing close to a million dollars in one gambling session. Like the home invasion that left Walker duct taped in his own bedroom closet. Like being forced to sell off his NBA Finals ring.
Check out the trailer for the film below, plus our Q+A with Walker.
SLAM: What’s the hardest part of the documentary for you to watch?
Antoine Walker: I’ve seen it a few times now, obviously. For me, it’s my family. Just seeing how they feel and what they went through, and how I could have been a little more disciplined on them. Like you saw in the film, like with my friends, they talk about everybody else, they don’t talk about themselves. [Laughs] After the last screening, I picked up on that. But they’re really some of the main core people of that, the people I saw on an everyday basis. But I wasn’t in the interview room, that’s the great thing about it. You got the truth out of them. It’s funny how they blame everybody else, but they were the main core.
SLAM: Which parts were the most fun to watch?
AW: Honestly, just seeing how much fun we had in the process of my life, early on. When I see different guys in the pictures, different celebrities and friends, those things.
SLAM: And those Kentucky teams you played on were crazy. Derek Anderson, Tony Delk, Jamaal Magloire, Walter McCarty, Ron Mercer, Nazr Mohammed…
AW: Yeah, it’s crazy. I talk to everybody about that, I think arguably—I know people will argue with me—but I think we had the best college team ever. I know there were a couple other really good ones, but I think we had the best one ever. Also what made it special was that we are still very close, to this day. We keep in touch with each other, we still do things back at Kentucky together, we’ll go down and do card signings. The people of Kentucky just treat us so well. It’s still very much a team, we’re still good friends.
SLAM: Your college practices must have been competitive as hell.
AW: The practices were better than our games. We won 27 straight, so the practices were much harder than the games. We won by a margin of 24 or 25 points per game. Practices were definitely harder—coach was a slave driver, really worked us hard. Those were the glory days, the times you’ll always remember for the rest of your life.
SLAM: What was it like playing for Rick Pitino at Kentucky and later with the Celtics?
AW: I think, obviously, being very close to Coach, he wanted to win. In the NBA, in this day and age, when you take over a young team, you have to have patience. Coach didn’t have a lot of patience. He wanted to win right away. I probably played with 20 different guys. We were signing guys, shipping guys out. I never got a chance to play with a core there, in his two and a half years. But for me, it was great. Like I said, he paid me, gave me my max deal, and I played some of my best basketball with him as the coach. I was very comfortable with him, and we still have a great relationship to this day.
SLAM: What was the motivation behind putting your story into a documentary? Were you at all hesitant to put your life story on film?
AW: It was a combination of things. One, I felt like people were misled, because of the way the media was making out my story to be. I wanted to be real, raw. But when we started the project, I wasn’t completely out of my bankruptcy, so I wanted to make sure that I was out of bankruptcy and had moved past that aspect of life. It was more or less wanting to be real, wanting to get my story out there, and I wanted to re-brand myself to tell my story the way I want to tell it, without having anybody or any media portraying it the way they want to portray it. It just kind of formed together, and I asked the people who have been around me for the last 15-20 years of my life and got their opinion. I didn’t want to be in the room, either. I wanted an uncensored opinion, and I think Anthony did a good job of bringing that out of a lot of people. It’s a project that I’m very excited and happy about. I think it can be a tremendous learning tool for a lot of guys. Sometimes guys don’t think about these things. If I can change that number a little bit, change the way guys take care of their money, making sure they’re watching their money and nobody else is, I’ll feel like I did my job.
SLAM: Do you think the film is fair in terms of accuracy?
AW: I think it’s 100 percent—well, a couple things, I think the entourage, the numbers that they said, 15-20 people is a little deep. Some of those people didn’t want to tell on themselves a little bit. But I did go out with a lot of people, and if I’d end up at a party or a venue or pull up at a club and see some associates or whatever, of course I’d bring them in. Outside of that, though, everything is pretty much right on the button.
SLAM: Looking back, can you remember any nights in particular that stand out like, “Wow, that was crazy?”
AW: [Laughs] A couple nights at clubs in Vegas, $25,000 or $30,000. Just hanging out in the club. That was a little extreme. Or just getting caught up in competitiveness gambling, losing $700,000 or $800,000 over the course of a six, seven, eight day period. Those things are the things that stick out in my head. Just having the competitive spirit, and wanting to win that money back, not wanting to lose.
SLAM: Through everything that happened, did you feel like any of your debts or your lifestyle ever affected your on-court play?
AW: Not really. That’s the weird thing about it. I had an uncanny ability to hang out, but then wake up and work is work. I think that comes from, I love the game of basketball. Anyone that knows me knows, I’d play rain, sleet or snow. That’s one thing I always did is play basketball. I enjoyed the game no matter what I did the night before. And it was kind of a discipline of ours—no matter what we did, we got up and worked out throughout the process. So it never really affected me on the court, for the most part. I always showed up on time, was very disciplined about the game, still showed up to meetings on time, I was always one of those guys.
SLAM: You mention in the film that you wish you hadn’t asked for a buyout from the Grizzlies. Is there anything else you wish had gone differently in your career?
AW: Obviously, there are a lot of things I would want different. You always want to leave the game on your on cognizance, and I didn’t leave the game on my own. I left Memphis, took a buyout, went to Miami for a month. I’m down there living, catch a DUI, put the bad taste out there for these NBA teams, make them think that I’m not serious about the game, and I’m done. And that was never the case. I still had a complete passion for it and wanted to play. After I left there, I went and trained in Vegas for 10 weeks, went to Kentucky for five months with Coach Pitino and really did my due diligence of trying to get back in shape. Obviously, I played in the D-League, and the first year, I went out there and played at a high level, and didn’t get called up. I went back the second year just to have some peace of mind. I still was going through my bankruptcy and still trying to figure out where I was going to be financially. The D-League was great for me. It was humbling, but it also was probably the best thing I ever did, because it gave me some balance, it gave me a structure that I was used to having throughout my life.
SLAM: How do you think you’ll be remembered? What will be your legacy when people say your name 15, 20 years from now?
AW: I think people will realize that I was a great player. I didn’t finish the proper way. I think I was on my way to possibly having a chance to make it to the Hall of Fame. I had enough individual accolades, and if you look at my stats, they’re comparable to a lot of guys that have gotten put in the Hall. But I probably won’t make it, because I didn’t end the proper way. Hopefully people will understand that I played the game with a lot of passion, with a lot of heart. I hope people will believe I was a very unique player, for my size and my skill level. And hopefully, you never want to get judged for negative things. I don’t know how negative people view things, but hopefully they can respect what I went through and respect my comeback.
SLAM: On a lighter note, where did your famous shimmy come from?
AW: [Laughs] Yeah, it was one of those things. I used to always dance in college. If you go through my college highlights, I always danced in college. We used to tease about it. I can’t really explain it, it’s like the hardest thing, when people ask me about it, I can’t explain it. It’s just like, I get excited about the game and I just want to dance. If you go out with me, I’m always bobbing my head and moving my shoulders. So it’s something that I always enjoy doing.
SLAM: Where does your shimmy rank in terms of all-time great NBA dance moves?
AW: Oh, I’m up there. I’m top three. Gotta be top three.
SLAM: What are the other moves you respect?
AW: I like Mark Jackson’s shake. And who started the 3 fingers to the head? Carmelo? That’s what I like.
SLAM: You know Paul Pierce better than most people. What was your reaction to him signing in Washington?
AW: In my predictions, I’ve got Washington being the third-best team in the East. I think they have the best starting five in the NBA—well, at least in the Eastern Conference. Obviously you can argue with LeBron and with that Big Three, but if you’re talking about complete starting five, I think Washington has the best complete starting five.
SLAM: What is it specifically that you think he can bring to a team like the Wizards?
AW: I think he’s going to bring a competitive edge. If you watched the pre-season game against Chicago, that scuffle—it made me laugh, knowing Paul—he’ll bring a toughness to them, and he can teach them how to win. And he’s going to be a guy that can score late. I think he’s going to be very valuable, they’re kind of a cornerstone of the Eastern Conference. I think they’ve got something good there, a good core there. Paul is a winner, he’s a good friend of mine. I know he’s going to do the right thing by those guys.
For more info on Gone In An Instant, visit the film’s official website here. Images via Getty Images, Anthony Holt.