NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24: Bill Walker #5 of the New York Knicks looks on against the Boston Celtics in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 24, 2011 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
I share two names with Bill Walker. My birth certificate says "Charles Thomas Osborn," but my parents and everyone in my family recognizes that my full name is "Charles Thomas William Patrick Henry Jacob Lawrence Osborn." (Want my social security number, too?) It's stupid, I know, but it's the way it is. Bill Walker, on the other hand, has the proper amount of names, and they're officially William Henry Walker. Walker grew up in West Virginia, and he attended high school in Ohio, where he and some guy named OJ Mayo absolutely ran shit (whoever decided to make that mix and put GZA in the background deserves a kiss on the lips). The two of them were best friends, and often compared with one another. Although Walker was typically considered a "swingman," while Mayo was considered a point guard/combo guard, the two of them conducted workouts with both of them running the same drills, and when someone was watching, they would play each other in one on one. Remember that for later.
Bill Walker is a knucklehead. I hope this doesn't come off as offensive, but Bill Walker has a hilarious voice with a hilarious accent, and I recall one of those "KnicksNow!" videos interviewing the whole team. The topics of discussion were "who is the stinkiest Knick?" and "Which Knick should have his own TV show?" and other groundbreaking, McClure's-worthy journalism. When the topic came up of "Say, who is the funniest Knick," it was near-unanimously Bill Walker. He makes everybody laugh. He peed in a towel during crunch time so he wouldn't have to leave the court. He is a proponent of Gilbert Arenas, and he gifted me the phrase, along with his annunciation: "Melo's wet ALL the time! Who cares, it's still points!"
But character and humor do nothing for NBA ambitions. Walker could have skated his way into the NBA if everything had gone off without a hitch, based solely on his athleticism. Back in high school, he was casually referred as a "Dunking God." Nearly every dunk in his repertoire was a windmill because, like the top comment of that video says: yo if you were in high school and could windmill ON people you'd do it every chance you could. Oh, and I guess I should mention that all this dunkery occurred despite Walker blowing out his right ACL in 2003. After his surgery, he rehabbed his way back into explosive shape and went on a rampage that included teaming with Mayo to win back-to-back state titles, averaging about 21 and 10 in the meantime. He went to Kansas State while Mayo chose USC, and blew out his left ACL soon after arrival. He rehabbed that injury, and the next season played well enough with Michael Beasley that he felt the need to enter the NBA draft.
Guess what happened next? He hurt his knee again, forcing him to reconsider his decision to declare. Ultimately he stayed in the draft, both in terms of eligibility and length of wait. Walker finally went 47th overall to the Wizards, who traded him to the Celtics for a stack of paper bills. He toiled on Boston's bench for awhile, spinning in garbage time only. Finally, a butterfly flapped its wings in Mongolia, Mike D'Antoni's disdain for Nate Robinson reached its climax, and Donnie Walsh decided to send him and summer league warrior Marcus Landry to Boston in exchange for J.R. Giddens, Eddie House (the real reason for the trade was House, who had previously played for D'Antoni in Phoenix. His role was Nate Robinson's role, but instead of bringing a losing attitude, he brought a team-first style and a championship ring.), and of course Bill Walker.
That Knicks season was a strange one for Bill Walker to come into, and perhaps a perfect one as well. The most competent guard on the team was rookie Toney Douglas, who had shown flashes of potential offensively and relative consistency defensively. There was a stretch that season during which the Knicks not only started Larry Hughes, but Hughes would sporadically flirt with triple-doubles and blatantly mail in games, as well as generally stink at basketball. So, why shouldn't Bill Walker show up?
His third game as a Knick, and the first one during which he saw minutes, Walker went one of three from behind the arc (I didn't expect him to shoot any three pointers prior to seeing those three attempts), and his first field goal as a Knick was a fast break dunk that was proactively avoided by the most competitive, fiery basketball player in the world, Kevin Garnett. Two games after that, the Knicks played Memphis and Walker hardly made an impact in 25 minutes of a loss. Two weeks later, in the former of perhaps my favorite back-to-back games in Knicks history, Walker and Mayo got a rematch in Memphis and put on a show. Although the Knicks would lose the game, Walker and Mayo guarded each other throughout the entire fourth quarter and both of them went off. Walker scored 21, Mayo 22. Mike Breen, having done his research on Walker and Mayo's shared background, nearly got off in the fourth quarter, and I was right there with him.
The very next day, on the road in Dallas, Walker poured in 23 points in 25 minutes against the Mavericks in a rout (Douglas, Chandler, Harrington and Lee also had great games). This win was particularly sweet for me because earlier that season, the Knicks had lost to the Mavericks in Madison Square Garden by the largest home margin in franchise history. My dad and I were sitting about six rows up from the court thanks to tickets he got me for Christmas. We didn't even stay until the fourth quarter. The Mavericks beat the Knicks by 50 that day. The Knicks beat the Mavericks by 34 in Dallas. I'll call it even.
Walker would go on to reach double figures in nine of his final eleven games, mostly on dunks and high percentage layups, as well as a steady diet of three pointers (32 of 70 in those final eleven). Then the summer happened. The Knicks got their hands on Amar'e Stoudemire and Landry Fields, and with a few exceptions Bill Walker would never play truly significant minutes again. He threw up a couple good games last season, receiving more burn as the playoffs neared, but he played badly throughout most of the regular season, as well as quite poorly in the playoffs. Last season's Bill Walker highlight was probably a top 10 dunk of the NBA season overall, his posterization of Andrew Bogut. That dunk was impressive for so many reasons; knee surgeries, height, Bogut's defensive dominance prior to his injury that season. It seems important to note, in this generation, that it received the #1 spot on Sportscenter's Top Plays.
This season, Walker's only notable game was his three point display against the Heat. But the Knicks lost that game, so his exhilarating bombs are washed from memory. Yesterday, when the Knicks decided Jeffries was done, they decided to make room for a utility big man at Bill Walker's expense. He likely will never play for the Knicks again. However, I'll miss that ambitious knucklehead, who overcame three significant knee injuries to both legs in order to make it in the NBA (and play playoffs minutes). He was a dude who finished second in the league in true shooting percentage in the 2010 season, taking almost exclusively threes and dunks. He was mostly my favorite Knick, though, having taken Renaldo Balkman's place two months ago. I'll remember his strange introduction (a windmill dunk) and intermittent nuclear detonations, as well as his 43% three point shooting mark in 2010, after working tirelessly on shooting, which he was told was the weakest part of his game.
Many current Knicks fans, who arrived in one of: The Stoudemire wave, the Anthony wave, or the Lin wave, think Bill Walker sucks and is lazy and can't play defense fah shit! But to my eyes, he played hard more than almost anybody, gave his fouls (and fouled hard), and worked on his weaknesses.
One of two afterthoughts in the Nate Robinson/Eddie House trade, Walker lasted more than two seasons in blue and orange. So long, my namesake, Bill Walker.