Celtics 365: Kemba’s Emotional Return to Charlotte
At this time last year, the Boston Celtics were just beginning their journey through the 2019-20 NBA campaign. Little did they know at the time that it would wind up being the most unprecedented 365-day trek in NBA history.
It took an entire year to complete the season, as a four-month, midseason hiatus in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic pushed playoff basketball all the way into mid-October of 2020. As a result, the beginning of the 2020-21 Season has been pushed back to an undetermined date.
In light of that delay, we want to make sure Celtics basketball remains in your lives this fall, when NBA basketball is usually in full swing. So we’ll be taking you on a 365-day rewind back to last season as we highlight some of the most memorable performances from the campaign - all on the one-year anniversary of each occurrence. We’ll refresh some fun memories while also keeping you in the basketball mindset for when next season begins.
In just the eighth game of his Celtics career, Kemba Walker was strapped onto an emotional roller coaster and taken for a ride that he will never forget. That ride occurred one year ago today inside Charlotte’s Spectrum Center, where Walker returned to face his former beloved Hornets team for the first time as a member of the C’s.
From the day he signed with Boston, Walker made it clear that a piece of his heart will always reside in Charlotte, where he had spent the first eight years of his NBA career. On this night, it became clear why he felt that way, as the Hornets organization and fan base treated their former “King of Charlotte” to a heartwarming homecoming.
The Hornets didn’t waste any time in welcoming Walker back to the arena, as they treated him to a one-minute and 41-second video tribute during pre-game starting lineup introductions. Walker stood underneath Spectrum Center’s hive-shaped video board, blinking back tears with an ear-to-ear smile as he took a trip down memory lane via a montage of his Hornets highlights.
“It was special,” Walker said after the game of the tribute. “It was special just to be back here and the amount of love that I’ve been getting throughout this day and leading up to this day, it’s just been a lot of love. The video just topped it off. It was so special, and it definitely obviously made me really emotional. I was trying to hold it in, but I couldn’t. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to.”
When it was over, Hornets Nation, which included Walker’s mother standing a few feet away from her son behind the Celtics bench wearing his new No. 8 jersey, treated Walker to a lengthy standing ovation, before public address announcer Patrick Doughty introduced the 6-foot guard with the same booming enthusiasm that Walker had always received inside his former home.
“It was amazing,” Walker said of the reception he received. “Just a great feeling to know that they still have love for me even though I left. But you know to be back and to get the reception I got was really cool.”
Walker’s pregame emotions may have carried into the contest itself, as he struggled out of the gate, failing to make a single field goal during the first half. After halftime, however, he seemed to have gained control over those emotions, as he went on to finish with 14 points and a team-high-tying six assists while helping his current squad to a dominant 108-87 win over his former squad.
Despite the loss, Walker’s former coaches and teammates continued to shower him with praise following the game.
"It's always great to see Kemba," Charlotte coach James Borrego said. "I love that guy. He has a great spirit. He's a great competitor and a wonderful person. I think it was a good night for him and for all of us. Both teams have moved on, but it's always good to see him."
RESPECT pic.twitter.com/z0UteMhejg— Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) November 8, 2019
While this night largely revolved around Walker’s return, it was also a special homecoming for Celtics rookie Grant Williams, who grew up a six-minute drive away from downtown Charlotte.
“I had a lot of family, a lot of friends here, people that bought tickets that I didn’t even realize bought tickets and they didn’t even text me,” Williams described. “I got to see them on the jumbotron and I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s Mrs. Scott right there.’ That was crazy, but it was definitely something I’ll look back at in a couple years and say that was one of the best moments of my career.”
Overall, it was a night full of emotions for Walker, Williams and the entire city of Charlotte – one that they will never forget.