Written by Sean Deveney
Is it wrong to feel bad for Antoine Walker? Because I do.
There’s plenty of reasons not to feel bad at all. Walker was a pro basketball star for 13 years, and the worst kind of star. He was brash, taunting opponents with his “Walker wiggle,” a sort of full-body shake easily mistaken for a mild seizure. He was lazy, one of the worst-conditioned players on his team, with that tube-steak torso—long, cylindrical and not quite fat, but utterly lacking in definition. And he was a chucker, never shy about launching bad shots in great quantities.
Still, Walker could score and because of that, he got paid. Over the course of his career, he made about $110 million, plus endorsements.
Now, Walker doesn’t have a dime left. He declared bankruptcy in May. He was sued by the city of Chicago for, basically, being a slumlord (in fairness to him, it was a business associate who ran Walker’s properties day-to-day). When it came time to check on his balances, he found the equity he had in the properties he owned in Chicago and all over the country had shriveled. He was sued by several casinos in Las Vegas for passing bad checks worth about $1 million. He was sued by his NBA agent for non-payment on about $200,000.
Walker’s driveway looked like a P-Diddy video—Bentleys, a Hummer, an Escalade, a Range Rover, a Ferrari and (presumably for everyday errands) a couple of Mercedes. If my dad is right and new cars are the biggest sucker deal going, Walker was a giant sucker. In his bankruptcy filing, he declared debts of $12.7 million and assets of just $4.3 million.
It was because of all this that I drove up I-95 on Thursday to Portland, Maine. Walker, still only 34, is attempting to make an NBA comeback, starting at one of the lower rungs of organized pro basketball—the NBA’s Developmental League. He is playing for Idaho, a state Walker would have been unlikely to find on a map even if that map was just a map of Idaho.
He’s saying the right things—he wants to finish his career on his terms, he still has the competitive juices, he wants to help a contender. In reality, it’s not a shock that the comeback coincides with the bankruptcy.
Here’s Walker’s view on his financial state: “My life is not predicated on just money. I grew up with no money. I spent 18 years of my life without money. I have just been blessed throughout my life to make a lot of money, and that brought me and my family great things. But I have been in situations where I did not have money.”
That attitude is fine, even commendable. “I didn’t have money, then I did, then I lost it and I am back to not having money again. Ah well.” But it’s not the kind of outlook that elicits sympathy.
What gets me feeling bad for Walker is that he doesn’t quite get it. When he continued, he said, “I am going to have money. Am I going to have $10, $20 million? Them days may be over. I don’t know. Maybe I will be able to make that kind of money again. I don’t know what the future holds for me … Now I am just trying to do what I can do, and that’s play basketball. It’s what I love to do, so I just want to focus on that.”
No, no, no. The days of $10 and $20 million are most certainly over, Antoine. If he were able to persuade a team to sign him, he would get the veteran’s minimum, $1.3 million, prorated to about $650,000 because he’d only be playing half a season. If he plays well enough to be signed next year, he would get the minimum again. He is 34 and his reputation for poor conditioning and bad shots lingers. Even if he plays like he did when he was 28, he is not getting a $10 million contract.
What makes me feel for Walker is that he doesn’t know this. I know it. I can call 30 general managers who know it. I can see other players, better players than Walker—Allen Iverson, now playing in Turkey, and Scottie Pippen, who attempted a comeback in Finland—who figured this out the hard way. Like Walker, both Pippen and Iverson were stars who made oodles of money and lost it, and resorted to failed comebacks.
And I guess that’s the part that makes me feel for Walker the most. He is trying this cockamamie comeback for a simple reason: He doesn’t know what else to do.
That’s something everyone can relate to, especially with unemployment at 9.3 percent. I know plenty of unemployed sportswriters who have done nothing for decades but write about sports. What do you do when you lose your job, when all you know how to do is tell people what happened in the game last night? If you aren’t working for a newspaper, suddenly, no one cares what you think about the game last night. You might start a blog, you might try freelancing. But you’re going to keep trying to write about sports. It’s all you know how to do.
In talking with Antoine Walker about this comeback then, it’s hard not to feel for the guy.