Carroll County Times

Commentary: Employee No. 8's swift fall

"Why do you shoot so many 3-pointers," asked some unsuspecting reporter.

"Because there are no fours," replied Boston Celtics forward Antoine Walker, as the story has it.

That quote was all I needed to hear when deciding who my favorite basketball player was. As a huge fan of the 3-point shot, it was a no-brainer that I would become a huge fan of Walker.

While he didn't always take smart shots behind the arc or make a ton of them, he kept firing away and didn't care what anyone said.

Walker burst on the scene in 1995 as a freshman at the University of Kentucky, being named the SEC tournament MVP. He followed that up the next year starting for Rick Pitino's national championship team and was named to the All-NCAA Regional Teams.

After forgoing his final two years of eligibility, Walker was drafted by the Celtics in the first round with the sixth pick in the 1996 NBA Draft. He went on to average 17.5 points per game and nine rebounds per game in his rookie season.

He scored a pretty cool Adidas commercial where he was portrayed as "Employee No. 8" because he wore that number on the court. I fell in love, got his jersey and started honing my 3-point shooting abilities.

While success didn't really happen at first in Boston, Walker got a boost in 1998 when Kansas forward Paul Pierce fell to the Celtics with the 10th pick of the draft.

After a few more years of struggling, the duo hoisted the Celtics into the playoffs in 2002 - the franchise's first appearance in the postseason in seven years.

And with that came "The Shimmy."

'Toine, as he was known to most fans or NBA enthusiasts, developed a full-body wiggling type motion after drilling a big shot and, to me, it couldn't be any more entertaining.

My friends and I often tried to imitate it out on the neighborhood courts, but 'Toine was the original and none of us came close to duplicating it.

After bowing out in the Eastern Conference finals to the New Jersey Nets in 2002, the Celtics made a surprise move and traded Walker to the Dallas Mavericks just days before the start of the 2003-04 season.

I was devastated and angry at Celtics decision-maker Danny Ainge and vowed to never again root for the Celtics. It seemed inconceivable to me at the time how they could just let him go like that.

Little did I know, it started a rough patch for Walker that ultimately led him into the dire straits he finds himself in now.

His time in Dallas was uneventful, but after being shipped to the Miami Heat, Walker played a role in the Heat winning the 2006 NBA championship. Walker recorded 14 points and 11 rebounds in the deciding game which, as it seems, turns out to be the last high note for him on the court.

Waived by the Memphis Grizzlies in 2008, Walker started running into legal troubles. Charged with writing bad checks and accruing a large amount of debt, Walker was eventually forced to declare bankruptcy in 2010.

After stints playing ball in Puerto Rico and the NBADL, Walker decided to retire from basketball in early April of this year and it saddened me deeply.

I can't really feel sorry for someone who spent a ton of money and now finds himself in dire financial straits. But I miss 'Toine screaming, imploring his teammates to pick it up in their epic comeback during Game 3 of the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals.

I miss the wiggle after hitting a big 3, never mind the fact that he had previously clanked a couple before. I will miss the passion he showed, the will to win and the big battles he had with Kenyon Martin in the playoffs.

Walker won't go down as a basketball legend, but I can't think of any player who I enjoyed watching more. Even my dad, who was never a fan of players being demonstrative, was a fan of 'Toine's.

He had an infectious personality on the floor and it's sad to see him end up like this. I believe Walker when he says he is retiring, but I will always selfishly hope for one last comeback attempt.

But even if this is the official end for Walker, I still hope that one day he can find that elusive 4-point shot.