CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Kemba Walker keeps proving people wrong.
It’s just what he does.
When folks questioned whether the 6-foot-1 Walker was too small to become an elite NBA point guard after Charlotte selected him with the ninth pick in the 2011 NBA draft, he pushed himself to beat out D.J. Augustin as the starter.
When doubters questioned the Hornets giving him a four-year, $48 million contract in 2015, all he did was become a two-time All-Star.
On Wednesday night, he took another step in his impressive, if not unlikely career, passing Dell Curry to become the franchise’s career scoring leader with 9,841 points.
* NBA.com/Stats: Hornets’ all-time scoring leaders
“It’s super special because of all of the doubt I’ve gotten throughout my career and all of the criticism, but I just continue to prove them wrong,” Walker said.
The emotions boiled over for Walker after he made a reverse layup with 20 seconds left in a 118-105 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers to break the record Curry held for 26 years.
I’m about working, getting better and proving people wrong. Like I said, I’m not supposed to be here. This is an unbelievable accomplishment and I’m so excited that I was able to do it tonight at home.”
Hornets guard Kemba Walker
LeBron James was having one of those nights, scoring 41 points — so the outcome was already decided.
But few in the packed house had left the Spectrum Center because they wanted to see Walker — by far the city’s most popular NBA player of the past decade — break the record. Once again, Walker did not disappoint, overcoming a sluggish three quarters to come alive late and finish with 21 points. Walker said he wanted to break the mark at home, rather than on the road at Washington this weekend.
Curry, a broadcaster for the Hornets and a huge Walker fan, looked down from his seat well above the court with a big, proud smile on his face.
James walked over to Walker as time expired and gave him a huge hug, whispering in his ear what an amazing accomplishment he had achieved.
Moments later Walker was being interviewed on the court and broke down, grabbing a towel to wipe away the growing tears streaming down his face.
"All the doubt I've gotten over my career, all the criticism, I stayed steady and kept proving people wrong. It's a huge milestone in my career." – @KembaWalker on becoming the franchise's all-time leading scorer pic.twitter.com/KiMIOpGYCA
— Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) March 29, 2018
“It was just pretty emotional,” Walker said. “I really wish I would have played better earlier and we would have had a more competitive game but it’s still a huge accomplishment. For my family to be here and all the fans cheering me on like that, especially because we lost, they made it pretty special anyway.”
James said Walker has a ton of respect around the league, although his Charlotte teams have struggled to consistently make the NBA playoffs and will likely miss out again this year.
"If you can be the all-time leading scorer in any franchise, that's an incredible feat."
— Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) March 29, 2018
“Listen, if you can be the all-time leading scorer in any franchise, that’s incredible,” James said. “That’s an incredible feat. I definitely went over and just told him how incredible that was. Even though with the season that they’re having, when accomplishments happen throughout the season, you try not to take them for granted. I think it’s an incredible feat for him.”
Hornets owner Michael Jordan wasn’t at the game, but weighed in with a statement released through the team.
“I’m really happy for Kemba,” Jordan said. “Becoming a franchise’s all-time leading scorer is a big accomplishment and it’s a testament to his hard work, dedication and passion for the game of basketball. He exemplifies what it means to be a Hornet. His effort, leadership and commitment to our team and the City of Charlotte is second to none. I’m proud to have him on our team.”
For Walker, this was about the gratification of overcoming doubters.
“I proved them wrong again,” Walker said. “That’s what I’m about. I’m about working, getting better and proving people wrong. Like I said, I’m not supposed to be here. This is an unbelievable accomplishment and I’m so excited that I was able to do it tonight at home.”
Teammate Marvin Williams said Walker plays harder than anyone he’s seen in a Hornets uniform.
Few would disagree.
The 27-year-old Walker said that is because he’s never forgotten where he came from and what he went through to get to became a national champion at UConn and to get to where he is now.
“I’m from a rough place, the Bronx,” Walker said. “Not a lot of people make it this far, especially as a professional athlete. I definitely know a lot of guys that played in the league that came from the Bronx but not a lot of them are a franchise all-time leading scorer. It’s special and I take pride in that. I put on every single day and night for my city. My city loves me to death. I love where I’m from because if it wasn’t for where I’m from, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”