Those of who you who are unfortunate enough to have known me for an extended amount of time are probably aware of my twenty-year love/hate relationship with the Boston Celtics. Two years ago, when Boston GM Danny Ainge traded away forward Antoine Walker, I swore them off for the next-to-last time in a most unpleasant tirade (there are still burnmarks on the floor of my grad school buddy Matt’s house in Normal, IL, whom I was visiting at the time).
Last week, when Ainge turned a deal to get Walker back, I became infected again with Gang Green (and, again, for the next-to-last time). Walker joined the team on the road, where they’ve posted victories in both games he’s played. Tonight, the Cs return to Boston for an extended home stand, and Walker will make his prodigal debut in the home white. To celebrate the occasion, Bill Simmons wrote this piece for ESPN.com’s Page 2:
In a last-ditch effort to salvage the season, Danny Ainge swallowed hard and brought back the team’s former captain, the same guy he traded 17 months before. It was like someone screwing up a game of “NBA Live,” glancing around the room, then hitting the RESET button…
…I attended nearly every home game during Walker’s first six seasons; there were times when I honestly wondered if the fans wanted him to fail. With diehards priced out of the premium seats near the court, those spots were filled mostly with businessmen and one-timers, few of them knowing much about the team. These people were always the toughest on Walker, who confirmed every stereotype they had about the league — in other words, he was an overconfident African-American who seemed a little too pleased with himself, made too much money, talked too much smack and definitely wasn’t Larry Bird. So they skewered him. When Walker signed a $71 million extension before the ’99 season, then showed up overweight and out of shape, the city never really forgave him. Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan — the most respected basketball voice in town — slammed Walker in a column, called him a “punk” and sealed Walker’s fate. Most Boston fans didn’t watch Celtics games anymore, so they couldn’t come up with their own opinion. Ryan did it for them.
To be fair, Walker made it impossible to accept him at times, between his hideous shot selection and bombastic personality. There were lots of moments like the Heat game in 1999, when we were winning late and Twan started talking trash to Mourning and Riley, even demanding the ball so he could launch a three in front of Miami’s bench. There was the time he told a heckler to “Bite me” in Section One, then grabbed his crotch during a timeout for good measure. There was the time he wouldn’t stop arguing with the refs, when Rick Pitino screamed “Stop it!”, then whirled around and tabbed someone from the bench, like a frustrated parent sending someone to their room. These things happen when a team hands a 20-year-old kid too much responsibility, when he doesn’t have any veterans looking out for him, when he doesn’t know right from wrong. He ends up glancing defiantly to his buddies in Section One after baskets, wiggling after meaningless shots, antagonizing officials for no real reason. He ends up digging his own grave…
…So why are we excited to have him back? Because he gave a crap about being a Celtic, that’s why. Walker came to the franchise in 1996, four years removed from Bird, three years removed from McHale and Reggie, two years removed from Parish. He played with Dee Brown and Rick Fox, both of whom played with the Big Three and understood how the franchise resonated with the city. For all his faults as a player, Walker always understood that it meant something to wear the Celtics green, knew the names on the rafters, valued Red Auerbach’s advice, listened to Tommy Heinsohn’s tips on the team charter. When the team traded him, he was devastated — not because they gave up on him, but because he never wanted to play anywhere else.