There is nothing New Yorkers love more than believing we are the center of the universe.
There is something about the shared New York experience — something about living in a city so big, so exciting and, yes, so difficult — that bonds people of diverse backgrounds, that makes us believe that we are all in this together and we are all slightly better than everyone else.
Especially when it comes to basketball.
Look for the Knicks to market the heck out of this sentiment this season as they add Bronx-born Kemba Walker to their team. In fact, exactly one minute after announcing Walker’s official signing this past Wednesday, the Knicks' Twitter account posted a video highlighting Walker’s Bronx roots, narrated by actor Chazz Palminteri.
"As they say in a different ‘Bronx Tale,’ you got to do what your heart tells you to do," Palminteri, the star of the 1993 film, says in the video. "And for Kemba Walker, that means coming back to where it all began."
Walker is just the latest in an incredibly long list of New York-bred players to land on the Knicks. According to data gathered from basketball-reference.com, Walker will become the 60th player to play both for the Knicks and a high school in one of the city’s five boroughs.
The players range from All-Stars such as Bernard King and Mark Jackson and Stephon Marbury to 27 guys, many of whom you’ve probably never heard of, who played one season or less for the team. Some of the more famous recent players with New York ties — Carmelo Anthony and current Knick Obi Toppin — don't qualify for this list because though they were born here, they played high school basketball elsewhere.
What’s more, the 6-foot Walker — who played at Rice High School — may be the last of the New York City-bred blue chip point guards. New York used to pump out playmakers on a regular basis with a list that includes Bob Cousy, Nate Archibald, Lenny Wilkens, Kenny Anderson, Jackson and Marbury. Now, with the area losing its top high school prospects to prep schools and AAU teams outside of the city, that no longer is the case.
Walker is a dribbling, shooting piece of nostalgia, a reminder of what basketball in this area used to be.
That’s a lot to put on anyone’s shoulders, and it’s not easy being a star in your hometown. Marbury struggled with the giant-sized expectations and playing under Larry Brown, a coach he didn’t like. Players such as Anthony and Jackson flourished, even if they didn't win it all.
Those who know Walker believe the 31-year-old has the right temperament, the timing and the right skill set to succeed in New York and help take this Knicks team to the next level.
"He’s a special kid. You don’t find many Kemba Walkers," said Jim Calhoun, Walker’s former coach at the University of Connecticut, in a phone interview. "The moment he steps on the court, the moment he walks in the locker room, he is going to help the Knicks out a lot.
"I felt the things they really lacked was ball movement and penetration. Kemba will give you more of that because he can make shots. From a leadership standpoint, young players are going to see a four-time All-Star. I think that’s a great positive."
Walker, an undersized overachiever, was cut from his high school basketball team his freshman year and wasn’t really on the recruiting radar until he was a junior. At UConn, he earned the nickname "Cardiac Kemba" because of his flair for making the big play in crunch time.
Walker’s most famous shot came in the 2011 Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden when his buzzer-beater upset top-seeded Pittsburgh. The shot gave Connecticut the momentum to win the Big East title and tick off six straight wins for an NCAA title.
Calhoun said one thing that makes Walker so unique is the contrast between his laid-back personality off the court and his intensity on it.
"He just really has a great sense of what he needs to know," he said. "It’s kind of funny. He’s one of those kids that everyone loves. You might say he’s a pleaser, but he’s not. He’s a guy that carries a feather and there’s that beautiful smile and everything else about him. But when he steps on that court, he takes out his sword and tries to beat you. That’s who he is."
The one big concern with Walker might be his knees. He played 43 of 72 games with the Celtics this past season, sitting out the final two games of Boston’s first-round loss to the Nets because of trouble with his left knee.
In his first move as Celtics team president, Brad Stevens traded Walker to the Thunder in June. The Thunder then bought out his contract, which allowed the Knicks to sign him to a two-year deal.
Still, Walker is only one year removed from his fourth consecutive All-Star appearance, and he is a significant improvement over departing point guard Elfrid Payton. He also won’t have to carry a huge load minutes-wise as the Knicks have Derrick Rose coming off the bench and some depth at guard with Alec Burks and Immanuel Quickley.
Calhoun, who knows Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau well, believes Walker is stepping into a great situation for both him and the Knicks.
Said Calhoun: "This is going to be a big positive. People always worry about pressure. Pressure is only what you feel. He’s happy. He’s playing for the Knicks. And he’s a New York kid."
One in a long line of New York kids.
Knicks who attended New York high schools
(Info via basketball-reference.com)
|Player||HS City||HS Name||From||To||Years||Games|
|Kyle O'Quinn||Cambria Heights||Campus Magnet||2016||2018||3||221|
|Metta World Peace||New York||La Salle Academy||2014||2014||1||29|
|Stephon Marbury||Brooklyn||Abraham Lincoln||2004||2008||5||287|
|Mark Jackson||Brooklyn||Bishop Loughlin Memorial||1988||2002||7||500|
|Anthony Mason||Springfield Gardens||Springfield Gardens||1992||1996||5||395|
|Rolando Blackman||Brooklyn||William E. Grady Career and Technical||1993||1994||2||115|
|Rod Strickland||Bronx||Truman HS||1989||1990||2||132|
|Sidney Green||Brooklyn||Thomas Jefferson||1988||1989||2||164|
|Carey Scurry||Brooklyn||Alexander Hamilton||1988||1988||1||4|
|Stewart Granger||Brooklyn||Nazareth Regional||1987||1987||1||15|
|Ernie Grunfeld||Forest Hills||Forest Hills||1983||1986||4||298|
|Len Elmore||New York||Power Memorial||1984||1984||1||65|
|Mike Davis||Brooklyn||Eastern District||1983||1983||1||8|
|Ron Behagen||Bronx||DeWitt Clinton||1979||1979||1||5|
|Jim McMillian||Brooklyn||Thomas Jefferson||1977||1978||2||148|
|Dean Meminger||New York||Rice||1972||1977||4||268|
|Mike Riordan||Flushing||Holy Cross||1969||1972||4||221|
|Neil Johnson||New York||George Washington||1967||1968||2||94|
|Freddie Crawford||New York||Samuel Gompers||1967||1968||2||50|
|Jerry Harkness||Bronx||DeWitt Clinton||1964||1964||1||5|
|Tom Stith||Brooklyn||Saint Francis Preparatory School||1963||1963||1||25|
|Sam Stith||Brooklyn||Saint Francis Preparatory School||1962||1962||1||32|
|Bill Smith||New York||New York Military Academy||1962||1962||1||9|
|Ray Felix||New York||Metropolitan||1955||1960||6||376|
|Brendan McCann||Brooklyn||Manual Training||1958||1960||3||41|
|Cal Ramsey||New York||Commerce||1960||1960||1||7|
|Pete Brennan||Brooklyn||Saint Augustine||1959||1959||1||16|
|Fred Christ||Brooklyn||St. Francis Prep||1955||1955||1||6|
|Don Ackerman||New York||Metropolitan||1954||1954||1||28|
|Max Zaslofsky||Brooklyn||Thomas Jefferson||1951||1953||3||161|
|Dick Surhoff||Queens||Grover Cleveland||1953||1953||1||26|
|George Kaftan||New York||Xavier||1951||1952||2||113|
|Ed Bartels||New York||La Salle Academy||1950||1950||1||2|
|Tommy Byrnes||Bronx||DeWitt Clinton||1947||1949||3||142|
|Sid Tanenbaum||Brooklyn||Thomas Jefferson||1948||1949||2||56|
|Leo Gottlieb||Bronx||DeWitt Clinton||1947||1948||2||84|
|Nat Militzok||New York||Stuyvesant||1947||1947||1||36|
|Ralph Kaplowitz||Bronx||DeWitt Clinton||1947||1947||1||27|
|Bob Mullens||Brooklyn||Brooklyn Prep||1947||1947||1||26|
|Dick Murphy||College Point||St. Agnes||1947||1947||1||24|
|Frido Frey||Brooklyn||New Utrecht||1947||1947||1||23|
|Frank Mangiapane||New York||George Washington||1947||1947||1||6|