Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker has quickly made himself a household name among basketball fans.
Chapter 1: Making a difference in Charlotte
September 20, 2016, will forever be a day that lives in Charlotte infamy. That afternoon, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officer shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott, sparking protests and riots through the streets of uptown. The shooting exposed a racial divide among its citizens and put city leaders to the test.
For Walker, it was a hard pill to swallow seeing his city become so divided.
“It was tough. I’ve been here for six years now, and to see the city being torn down like that and just the things that were happening, it was hard to watch,” he said.
As a result of the turmoil, Walker decided it was time to send a positive message to the city. So, he and the Hornets came together to create the Charlotte Hornets Players Scholarship Fund, which will award two $60,000 scholarships to seniors in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools system.
“Just something that a few of us came up with. Coach Cliff [Steve Clifford] was involved, Marvin (Williams), MKG (Marcus Kidd-Gilchrist), just to name a few,” Walker said. “It’s important to us to actually help someone.
“It’s not going to impact millions of peoples’ lives you know, but as long as we can impact one, two, or three kids’ lives, that’s really important to us. And then giving them the opportunity to go to college, enjoy college, and earn a degree without having the stress to pay when they probably can’t afford it. We want to help them achieve a goal in life. We want to be as involved as possible. We want to be able to interact with the students. If they have any problems or any questions, we want to be able to communicate with them as well.”
Walker wants to be known for his philanthropy and even tackled the topic of the NBA All-Star Game, which was moved from Charlotte over the controversial House Bill 2. He penned an article titled “How Can I Help?” for The Players’ Tribune last June, saying he wants to use the platform given to him by the NBA to bring social change.
Chapter 2: Family Matters
Walker grew up in the Soundview neighborhood of The Bronx in New York City. He says growing up in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood helped shape more than just his game.
“It’s made me who I am today,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot growing up, of course, coming from a pretty rough neighborhood. But I was able to sustain the right direction.”
Walker attributes his ability to stay on the straight and narrow to his parents, Paul and Andrea Walker. The 26-year-old star moved his parents to Charlotte after he was drafted in 2011. It’s something he doesn’t take for granted.
“My parents mean everything to me, so I love the fact that they’ve been there every step of the way throughout my life for everything,” Walker explained. “I’m just very fortunate that I can have both of my parents in my life. I know a lot of people (and) a lot of kids can’t say that. I’m very fortunate and I do appreciate that.”
During his childhood, Walker even performed at the legendary Apollo Theater as part of a dance group. He says it was fun and kept him off the streets during his impressionable years. And while he’s still got a “little bit of those moves” left, Walker says his dancing days are long gone.
Chapter 3: Welcome to the Queen City
Walker wrapped up his college career in style by leading UConn to its third national championship in the finals of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. His game-high 16 points led to him being named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and propelled him to be an NBA Draft lottery pick.
On draft night, Walker had to wait a little while before his name was called. Then, as the then-Bobcats made their selection, former commissioner David Stern called him to the stage as the ninth pick of the 2011 NBA Draft.
Despite a dismal record in a lockout-shortened season that saw Charlotte finish with a league-worst seven wins, Walker worked to prove he belonged in the NBA.
When D.J. Augustin suffered an injury, Walker was thrust into the role as starting point guard. In only his ninth game as a starter, he picked up his first career triple-double, becoming just the third player in team history to achieve the feat. Walker became the team’s full-time starter at the point in his sophomore year, starting all 82 games, averaging 17 points per game.
When asked if playing for Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all-time adds pressure, Walker said he actually enjoys the challenge.
“He expects a lot from us, especially from me,” he said. “So, I wouldn’t say easy, but at the same time, it’s fun. I fully expect him to expect a lot from me, so when I go out there I try to give it my best each and every night. I try to play as hard as possible because that’s what he did.”
Just don’t expect a 1-on-1 showdown between MJ and Kemba, who says he isn’t going to take on the boss anytime soon.
“Never. Never, not me,” Walker laughed. “I just watched him challenge a few other guys.”
Chapter 4: Creating an All-Star
Unless you’re a megastar in the NBA, such as LeBron James or Steph Curry, you’ll probably need a little help becoming an All-Star. Luckily for Kemba, that’s exactly what he got from the Hornets.
The team started promoting Walker in a parody of the famous Chuck Norris television hit “Walker, Texas Ranger,” only this time, it’s Walker: Charlotte Ranger. The premise is exactly what you’d think, too. Kemba, dressed as a cowboy sheriff, rescues children and even mascot Hugo from bad guys while his teammates make several cameos.
The acting is so bad, it’s good. See for yourself here:
They even created a website for the campaign, touting Walker’s stats and improvement as a player. According to the team, he has made the second-most three-point shots in the league and only two players in the Eastern Conference have connected on more than 75 threes at a higher than 40-percent clip: Walker, and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry.
Head coach Steve Clifford has gone on record saying that other coaches have approached him about Walker’s improvement, calling Buzz City’s All-Star the NBA’s most improved guard they’ve ever seen, especially when it comes to shooting the three.
“I don’t know about that. I’m pretty confident, though,” said Walker, who attributes his improvement to the entire Hornets organization and good, old-fashioned hard work.
Walker was named to the 2017 NBA All-Star roster. But after not being named a starter, he admitted to feeling a little anxious about being left off the team.
“I was, especially the way it went. I think my name was second-to-last to be called,” he remembered. “It just took so much time to actually hear my name get called. I was pretty nervous at one point, but when I finally heard my name, it was just a huge relief.”
With his selection, Walker became just the second player in franchise history to be named to the All-Star Game, joining Gerald Wallace, who represented Charlotte during the 2009-10 season. He’ll also compete in the three-point contest, along with Lowry and fellow 2011 draft classmates Klay Thompson and Kyrie Irving.
But surely someone’s offered some advice, for Kemba, right? Not really, but he’s okay with that.
“No advice yet. I don’t know what to expect, I’m kind of nervous, actually. It will be fun. I’m just gonna go out there and compete and enjoy myself while doing it,” Walker said.
Chapter 5: Get to know the man they call Kemba
Throughout his career, Kemba has developed a signature move when he hits a big shot. He turns as the shot falls and gives a little shoulder shimmy.
But if you miss, it’s pretty embarrassing. And that’s exactly what happened to Walker during a home game against Miami.
Brutal. So, who gave Kemba some grief over the incident?
“Shaq! Everybody,” he laughed. “I mean, that was a pretty rough night for me, but at least we got the win.”
Now that we’ve provided further embarrassment for Kemba (We still love you), what better way to learn more about Charlotte’s All-Star than with some rapid-fire questions?
Favorite Charlotte Restaurant?
“Nakato’s, it’s a hibachi place near SouthPark.”
What’s your go-to on Netflix?
Favorite song to get ready for pre-game?
“I can’t really say the name of the song,” (laughs), “but it’s by Future.”
Do you have a pre-game superstition that you have to do?
“I do. But I can’t tell you.”
Toughest player to score on?
“Not sure. Nobody I can think of right now, usually, it’s two or three guys on me now.”
“Thomas Davis. One time he asked me what (shoe) size I wear, I think he wanted a pair of my sneakers, even though he gets the same sneakers as me all the time. He’s a really cool dude. He really shows his support. He’s always at the games, every time he gets an opportunity to be there, he’s always there, so we appreciate him for that.”