Now an All-Star Starter, Kemba Continues to Defy the Odds
By Sam Perley
Every few months over the last three or four years, Kemba Walker seems to break another long-standing franchise record or add another impressive accolade to his growing list of NBA achievements. Shortly after 7 p.m. ET on Thursday night, his resume got a touch longer.
For the first time in his eight-year professional career, Kemba Walker will be one of 10 starters at the NBA All-Star Game, which is scheduled to take place in Charlotte on Sunday, Feb. 17. He is now just the third player in franchise history to accomplish this feat, joining Larry Johnson (1993) and Eddie Jones (2000). Taking the stage in his home city just makes the event all the more momentous.
“It’s kind of surreal. I had a lot of doubt coming into my career about being an elite point guard in this league,” said Walker shortly after the official announcement on TNT. “For me to become an All-Star for two straight years and now to become an All-Star starter, I most definitely proved the doubters wrong. It’s an unbelievable moment in my career.”
Walker is the second player in franchise history to make three All-Star Games, joining Glen Rice, who went three times in a row from 1996-98. Shortly after he was honored at halftime during the Hornets’ home win over Phoenix on Jan. 19, Rice spoke about Walker potentially joining him in rarified franchise air.
“It just goes to show you what kind of special individual, what kind of special player Kemba is,” stated Rice. “I wish him more success because I feel at the rate he’s going, how he’s playing and the type of person he is, this stretch is probably going to go beyond anything that someone can probably catch here in Hornets history.”
Like it has been for the last few years, nomination for All-Star Game starters was divided into three parts with fans counting for 50 percent of the vote and players and media each contributing 25 percent. Walker finished third amongst fans and second in the other two categories, a testament to not only how he’s viewed externally (particularly when considering Charlotte’s smaller-market status), but also internally by his fellow NBAers as well.
For the second year in a row, the NBA has done away with the traditional East-against-West format and instead, teams will be picked by leading fan-vote getters and captains LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. The other seven starters are Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid, Paul George, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard.
Through Jan. 23, Walker ranks fifth in the Eastern Conference in scoring (career-high 25.0 PPG), tied for ninth in assists (5.7) and third overall in the league in total three-pointers (152). He’s one of six NBA players averaging at least 25.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 5.0 APG and 1.0 SPG, a group that includes James, Antetokounmpo, Harden, Curry and Damian Lillard.
Walker is within striking distance of the franchise’s single-season records for total points (2,115) and three-pointers (243), currently held by Rice (1996-97) and Jason Richardson (2007-08), respectively. He’ll need to average almost 27.0 PPG in the final 35 games to top Rice’s mark, although he’s well on track to top Richardson if he keeps putting up around 3.0 threes a night.
Rice’s mark has stood for over two decades, but he doesn’t seem to be too upset at the thought of Walker potentially taking over at some point.
“I love it. That’s fine,” Rice added. “I’ve already anointed him as the all-time greatest Charlotte Hornets player. I love watching him. I love him as a player. I got a great deal of respect for him and I can only wish the best for him.”
This will be the first time in two years a player has started the NBA All-Star Game in the same city where his team plays. Anthony Davis (New Orleans, 2017), Kyle Lowry (Toronto, 2016), Carmelo Anthony (New York, 2015), Dwight Howard (Orlando, 2012) and Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles, 2011) are the most recent players to pull off this feat.
While he’s at it, maybe Walker will throw his hat back into the Three-Point Contest and try and better his third-place finish from two years ago in New Orleans. No NBA player has ever won the competition in his home city, although the Los Angeles Clippers’ Tobias Harris came close last year by finishing third at the Staples Center.
Some may have envisioned Walker’s career reaching this point, but many probably did not. Coming out of college, he was often labeled too small, a player who was too out of control and a shooter who was too limited. Over the past seven-plus seasons, Walker has plowed through every single bit of adversity that he’s encountered, taking his Charlotte Hornets career to an unprecedented level.
Like any great leader, Walker values team success far more than anything he’s able to accomplish on his own individually. Sure, he’d like to have a few more tallies in the win column and see the Hornets a bit further up in the Eastern Conference standings heading into February. Considering the circumstances though and where the event is located, Walker starting the All-Star Game in Charlotte is a fantastic honor that certainly won’t go uncherished.
“I know a lot of the players that play in their city try and go for the MVP. I think I might as well,” said Walker laughingly. “I want to play hard, definitely get the win, but we’ll see. It’s going to be exciting. I’m going to try my best to put on a show for the city.”
If you ask Hornets fan though, Walker puts on a show nearly every night he takes the court. And come All-Star Weekend, the NBA world will tune in to watch him on center stage.