Bing Remembers Walker
"As active players we were in touch, but once we retired, he kind of just fell off the face of the earth," Bing said. "Nobody could find him."
In the Tuesday morning edition of the Kansas City Star, the mystery ended. Walker, a two-time NBA All-Star while with the Detroit Pistons, had died of lung cancer Monday morning at a Kansas City medical center.
"For the last several years, as the retired players got together and discussed different players and where they were and what they were doing, nobody seemed to know where Jimmy was," said Bing, who heard the news Monday night from former Pistons teammate Willie Norwood. "To hear this now is a shock.
"Jimmy and I were very close friends when we played together. Actually, his rookie year, not only was he my roommate, he lived with me. The four years we played together, we were very, very close friends. So this is just a sad moment for me now."
Walker joined the Pistons as the No. 1 overall pick in 1967, being selected before future NBA greats Earl Monroe, who went No. 2, Walt Frazier (No. 5) and Pat Riley (No. 7). Walker's 30.4 points per game his senior season at Providence had led the nation in scoring in 1967.
"He was a good guy. Down to earth, easy to get along with, loved to have fun," Bing said. "He was a great offensive player. He had the skills that would mesh well with the game today. He had range, so he could shoot the 3-pointer. He had an unbelievable ability to handle the ball for someone his size."
While Monroe, Frazier and Riley went on to win NBA titles, Walker -- father of longtime NBA forward Jalen Rose -- proved to be a good player, but not a savior. Bing and Walker were the Pistons' 1-2 scoring punch in the 1969-70 and 1970-71 seasons, but missed the playoffs. The Pistons made one postseason appearance with Walker, when he averaged only 8.8 points per game his rookie year.
"He was a joy to play with," Bing said. "We played well together. You would think with both of us having the (similar) offensive skills we had, we wouldn't play well together. But we took turns, and we didn't have much of a frontline, so our scoring ability in the backcourt kept us in a lot of games. But we didn't win because we didn't have the power up front."
In his third season with the Pistons, Walker's scoring jumped from 11.7 to 20.8 points per game. He averaged at least 15 points per game the rest of his career. Bing has a theory as to why Walker's scoring jumped so dramatically.
"I think he got in shape," Bing said, laughing. "Jimmy had the ability. When I say he had fun, he had fun. He never really took care of his body that well. And I think in the third season, he realized with the skills he had, he also had to be in shape."
Walker's finest season in Detroit turned out to be his last, averaging 21.3 points on 45.7 percent shooting in 1971-72 before being dealt in the off-season. Walker played four more seasons with the Rockets and the Kings. He retired after his ninth NBA season, playing for Kansas City. He averaged 15.8 points that year, but Bing and Walker had already begun to drift apart. He didn't know for certain why his former house guest gave up the game.
"I think the skill level was still there," Bing said. "Whether he had the heart to continue to play is another story."