- Kemba Walker made his first return to Charlotte since signing with the Boston Celtics this summer.
- The fans showered Walker with love, bringing him to tears.
- He deserved every second of it, just as the Hornets front office deserves an equal measure of scorn for ever letting him leave.
Charlotte showered Kemba Walker with love on his return to the city on Thursday night. And why wouldn’t they? He’s one of the only stars in the NBA who would ever choose to stay in Charlotte.
Charlotte's warm welcome brought Kemba to tears 🥺pic.twitter.com/4AzwmuQTwK
— Dunk Bait (@DunkBait) November 8, 2019
No offense to the Queen City, but it’s one of the least attractive NBA destinations. The weather is so-so, the market is tiny, and it’s almost four hours away from North Carolina’s main selling point: the beach.
Kemba Walker didn’t care. He still, beyond all logic, wanted to stay. Unfortunately, Charlotte’s management didn’t have the sense to keep him.
The Rise (and Exodus) of Charlotte’s King
Charlotte drafted Walker 9th overall in 2011. He quickly rose the ranks and became an elite scorer. Last year, Walker scored 60 points in a game and made the All-NBA third team. His induction meant he was in line for a massive new contract.
Kemba Walker is the first player to follow up a 60-point game with a 40-point game since Kobe Bryant in 2006-07 💪 pic.twitter.com/XzmgzpVc1G
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) November 20, 2018
Many thought Kemba should leave Charlotte and their befuddled front office. Led by owner Michael Jordan, who’s much better at playing basketball than managing it, they failed to surround him with a competent supporting cast during his eight-year tenure. Jordan continues to make brilliant decisions, like offending the best player ever to come from Charlotte, who could’ve someday returned.
Despite all of this, Kemba remained loyal. He even said he’d take a pay cut to stay in one of the smallest, most boring markets in the NBA. When asked if he would take less than the $221 million max offer he could demand, Walker said, “Yeah, why not? I would take less, for sure.”
Kemba Walker: “I want to be in Charlotte. I’ll take less money to stay in Charlotte.”
Charlotte Front Office: “Thanks, but no thanks!” pic.twitter.com/jCXVWOkKiE
— Alex Warren (@AlexWarren55) June 27, 2019
But Kemba was willing to ignore all logic and stay in North Carolina. What’s not to love? The best player you’ve ever had was ready to throw away millions to stay with you. The entire arena should’ve gotten out of their seats and kissed the man’s Nikes.
Of course, Charlotte opted to let Walker go and give their money to a younger, much less talented Terry Rozier. Kemba joined the Boston Celtics this offseason, a team much more likely to provide him with the playoff opportunities he deserves.
Kemba Walker Is the Underdog Who’s Easy to Love
Charlotte’s love goes deeper than Kemba’s desire to stay in the city. Walker is easy to root for. He’s small (6 ft.), and he’s been the underdog for much of his life. He grew up in the unforgiving projects of the Bronx. During a 2018 interview after he became Charlotte’s all-time leading scorer, an emotional Walker said,
I’m not supposed to be here man. A lot of people where I’m from don’t make it.
"I'm not supposed to be here. A lot of people from where I'm from don't make it… this is a huge accomplishment." – @KembaWalker after he passed Dell Curry to become the all-time leading scorer in @hornets franchise history #BuzzCity pic.twitter.com/7ROAurY8dF
— NBA TV (@NBATV) March 29, 2018
It makes sense that people aren’t trolling him like Cavaliers fans just did to LeBron James when his house almost caught on fire. They didn’t burn his jersey like Thunder fans did when Kevin Durant joined the 73-win Warriors.
Kemba deserves all the praise he gets. If anyone should be booed, it’s the Charlotte Hornets’ front office.