The Kemba Walker era is seemingly over in Charlotte, as the Hornets' star guard reportedly agreed to a four-year maximum deal with the Boston Celtics yesterday.
While Walker is set to move on from the only NBA state and city he's ever known, he made it clear in a piece he wrote for The Players' Tribune that Charlotte will always have a fond place in his heart.
In a story titled "Boston, Let's Do This" on the website, Walker reflected on his days with the Hornets starting from when he was drafted by the then-Charlotte Bobcats with the No. 9 pick in the 2011 Draft. It was a Draft-night conversation with Hornets owner Michael Jordan that made a big impact on Walker back in 2011.
"He called me up….. and of course I recognized his voice instantly," Walker wrote. "(I remember thinking, even in that moment, you know, like — Damn. It’s MIKE.) And real calm, real cool, he just said, 'Kemba, we believe in you. I want you to know that. We believe in you, and we expect great things.'
"To some people, that probably sounds like any old pep talk. But what you have to understand is — it’s like I said: It’s MIKE. It’s Air Jordan! It’s the greatest, period. And you have the greatest, period, not just drafting you with this high pick….. but then also talking about how he expects greatness out of you? "
Jordan and Hornets president of basketball operations Mitch Kupchak both issued statements today about Walker's pending departure.
"On behalf of the entire Hornets organization, I want to thank Kemba for eight incredible seasons with our franchise," Jordan said in a statement. "He always represented the Hornets, the NBA and the city of Charlotte with class – both on the court and in the community – and we are disappointed he is leaving. He’s a special player, with a tremendous heart and tireless work ethic. Kemba is truly one of the best to ever play for our team. We wish him and his family all the best in the future.”
Walker made a particular point to talk about playing in Charlotte and how much he adored Hornets fans.
"I think because the Hornets are a younger franchise in this league, people get the idea that their fans are maybe more of the casual type. But if you’ve spent any time in Carolina, you know that isn’t the case at all. Hoops culture — it runs deep in that area. They understand it and they respect it. So a place like that….. when they take you in as one of their own? And they believe in you, and they always have your back, no matter what? That means everything.
"And I just wanted to say thank you to them."
Walker stands as the Hornets' all-time leading scorer and ranks in the franchise's top five in assists (No. 2), games played (No. 3), defensive rebounds (No. 4) and steals (No. 3). He did not appear to hold any ill will toward the team in his Players' Tribune piece.
"I just want to address the entire Hornets organization, top to bottom," Walker wrote. "I regret that we weren’t able to get to that next level, and do a little more than we did. But even if we fell short of some of our goals — that doesn’t change how proud I am of what we built here together.
"This place is special. And while this summer was the right time for me to part ways, and move on to another phase in my career — it’s taking nothing away from the Hornets as a fan base or as a franchise. If anyone in the league asked for my advice? I’d encourage them to sign with you all, without hesitation. I’d tell them how it’s a place full of not just great basketball people, but great people — and that things are headed in the right direction."
After his lengthy address to Charlotte and its fans, he made a promise to Celtics fans and gave them an idea of what to expect from him next season and beyond.
"I’m a leader in my own way. I’m never going to shout anyone off the court, or get overly negative. It’s not my style," Walker wrote. "But what I do is I take pride in making my teammates better — I’m that lead by example type. I like to keep it direct. ... Every year, my goal is simple: to get better, and go farther.
"I take my responsibilities as a professional very seriously — but I also try not to lose sight of why I’m here in the first place. I love this game. So we’re going to grind for those buckets….. we’re going to grind for those stops….. but I’ll tell you what else: we’re going to have some fun out there. And you can bet we’re going to be fun to watch."
Walker played his college basketball in Storrs, Connecticut, less than 90 miles from Boston and is still revered after leading the Huskies to the 2011 NCAA title. UConn beat Butler -- coached by now-Celtics coach Brad Stevens -- in that championship game.
Walker's departure will be a major blow for the Hornets, who -- barring a late sign-and-trade, which does not seem likely -- will lose their franchise player for nothing. Walker's departure comes a few weeks after backup point guard Tony Parker, the longtime San Antonio standout who played with Charlotte last season, announced his retirement from the NBA.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.