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The late 90’s and early 00’s were not the Celtics’ best years. Between 1996 and 2003, Boston made the playoffs twice (2002 and 2003), and finished over .500 twice (2002 and 2003, not surprisingly). It was a pretty lackluster time period by NBA standards, especially for a franchise as glorified and as storied as Boston.
A notable aspect, however, of that time period starting in 1996 was a potential star newly sporting a Celtic uniform. He was a rising star, fresh from a NCAA National Championship under the tutelage of Rick Pitino. With the sixth pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics selected Antoine Walker from the University of Kentucky.
Commence Boston’s Walker years. Or Walker’s Boston years. Unfortunately for Antoine, Walker’s Boston years were far better than Boston’s Walker years. Even more unfortunately, Walker’s Boston years may have been the best of his life.
Antoine Walker and Boston fans had a love/hate relationship. What wasn’t to love about a young, charismatic, confident addition to a struggling team? Then again, what wasn’t to hate about an immature, emotional, cocky addition to a struggling team? For seven years, Walker and his trademark shimmy shake shimmied and shook through all the love and the hate in Boston and both parties emerged relatively unscathed. In retrospect, Walker could be considered a precursor to Manny Ramirez. He was ‘Toine being ‘Toine.
But fast forward seven years, and the estimated $110 million he made over his 13-year NBA career is gone baby, gone.
Walker wasn’t shy about his earnings. Cars, homes, watches, and clothes for himself; then more of the same for family and friends. In a recent ESPN Outside the Lines interview with Mark Schwartz, Walker admitted his tendency to splurge on family and friends: “In the beginning of my career I kind of thought it was my obligation. I thought it was kind of my calling. ‘OK, I make this amount of money. My job is to give back.’” Unfortunately, in Walker’s world, giving back meant spending millions of dollars on a house for mom and lavish soirees and getaways for his pals. There’s financial stability, and then there’s financial recklessness. Walker was encompassed by the latter.
Sure, his mom and his buddies may have deserved a share of his fortune. But if Antoine felt obligated to give back, he could have done so in a much more productive manner. As a Chicagoan, he could have focused some of his efforts on his city. Instead, he squandered $10 million on South Side properties which he eventually neglected and let waste away. As an athlete, he could have helped develop youth programs. Instead, he supports his own youth with $7,000 per month in child support. As a person, he could have reached out to those in need. Instead, as a superstar, he stuck to his own needs.
Fast forward seven years, and those same needs have cost him over $110 million.
Antoine’s training sessions with Michael Jordan, which started in 2001, may have helped Antoine and his Celtics on the court (drafting Paul Pierce didn’t hurt either), but their post-training gambling binges added unnecessary momentum to Walker’s already spiraling financial recklessness. Jordan is a notorious gambler, but has a brand and endorsement deals which allow him to sustain casual thousand-dollar evenings at the black jack table. Given Walker’s predisposition to spending big, going even bigger with MJ was right up his alley. Antoine gambled away so much money that his winnings, prior earnings, and reputation could not make amends. Antoine hit, and hit hard, when he should have stayed.
Now, millions of dollars in debt, Walker has been earning just shy of $40,000 a month playing professional basketball in Puerto Rico. His contract with the Guaynabo Mets is not guaranteed past the end of March, and hasn’t put up the numbers on the court to justify that kind of salary. Walker will need to pick up his game if he wants to start picking up the pieces of his debt-ridden life.
So, although the late 90’s and early 00’s were not the Celtics’ best years, they may very well have been Antoine Walker’s best. He created a niche for himself in Boston and was in the spotlight for the right reasons, even though he wasn’t every Celtic fan’s favorite player. Now, he must compromise his former gaudy lifestyle and find a niche trying to make ends meet – ends that happen to be several years and millions of dollars removed from his current state.
It’s going to be tough for him to shimmy out of this one.