The American Airlines Center welcomed the New York Knicks and their point guard Jalen Brunson on Tuesday but they couldn’t watch their former player gracing the hardwood.
Brunson, who signed with the Knicks last summer to play basketball at MSG in NYC, was forced out of yesterday’s game with a right hip injury.
“You trust your medical [staff],” Tom Thibodeau said before the game, announcing Brunson’s upcoming DNP.
One who played yesterday, though, was former Knickerbocker and Bronx native Kemba Walker. This, just a few months ago, would have been labeled a joke with the Pistons landing Kemba via trade only to later release him allowing the Mavs to eventually land him.
Just in case you have forgotten, the Knicks got rid of Kemba this summer as part of a salary-dump move sending him packing to Detroit. That—along with some other sunny moves—opened $30M in the Knicks’ coffers that were later used to land a proper point guard in Brunson.
It wasn’t quite a hard decision to make, though, with Kemba having not played a single minute for New York after the All-Star break. The Knicks said the shutdown came down to a mutual decision.
Did Kemba have a rough time in New York from February on? One wouldn’t say so, judging by what he told the media yesterday.
“It wasn’t that tough, to be honest,” Walker said. “It was a selfish decision, actually. I was looking out for myself. I wanted to get right. At that time, I wasn’t playing much at all. So it just didn’t make sense [to stay].”
Kemba’s story with the Knicks is surely an interesting one. New York signed him back in August 2021 to a two-year deal but only used his talents in 37 games (all of them starting) in which he averaged 11.6 PPG, 3.5 APG, and 3.0 RPG.
“I’m from New York. I’m always going to root for my team. Ain’t no bad blood at all,” said Walker.
Now trying to make Dallas his home, the Mavs faithful received Kemba Walker with a roaring ovation with the Knicks in town on Tuesday. Those in attendance received posters of Walker’s face to wave in the stands, helping build the classic “revenge game” narrative.
“I thought that was really cool, actually,” Walker said before Tuesday’s game against his former team.
Bringing Walker home (his actual, original home) was, truth be told, a dream come true for both Kemba and the whole New York Knicks fam, brass and fans.
Things soured a bit over time, though.
“I don’t know [if there was a miscommunication]. They knew [about my knee]. Everybody knows, right?” Walker said. “But that’s not on me. If somebody is going to put me out there, I’m going to play. So it happened how it happened. That’s just the way it goes. Control what you can control.”
Walker isn’t wrong. The Knicks signed 31-year-old Kemba. Yes, he was just one year removed from making it to the All-Star in the prior four years splitting time between Charlotte and Boston. But he was also coming off playing 56 games in 2020 and 43 in 2021. Red flags were already there and flashing sirens.
Even then, and after all that went on to happen in just a span of a handful of months between Walker and the New York ballclub, Kemba acknowledged that “it’s the way this league goes” and “the way basketball goes.”
“I’ve played a lot of basketball. There’s definitely no hard feelings. No bad blood,” Kemba said.
Coach Tom Thibodeau, the one tasked with handling Kemba Walker in his brief time playing for the Knicks, said that “the only issue we had with Kemba was health,” adding that “if Kemba’s healthy, he’s a great guy and he’s a great player.”
The coach conceded that he “loves” Kemba and that the point guard “has been a great player in the league for a long time,” though.
Walker himself closed his press briefing by saying that “I’m a New York City kid, born and raised. Those were some great memories for me that I will remember and definitely cherish for a very long time.”