CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When a star player returns to face his former team for the first time, the first question on everyone’s mind is an obvious one: how will they be received when they take the court for the first time in a visiting team’s uniform?
When Kemba Walker was asked that question here Thursday morning, however, he responded to it with one of his own: why would anyone expect anything but a positive reception?
“Nothing but positive things, I hope,” Walker said ahead of the Boston Celtics’ morning shootaround here at Spectrum Center, hours before his first game against the Charlotte Hornets. “I don’t think I did anything wrong. I did an interview yesterday and they asked me the same question, and I’m not sure why that question should even be brought up, honestly. I think it should be all positive reactions.”
“It’s going to be great. It’s going to be great. It’s going to be a great feeling, and like I said, I’m looking forward to it. I’ve done plenty of good things here … I’ve always interacted with the fans, I’ve always signed autographs, I’ve always taken pictures, and I was always nice to everybody. So I don’t think there will be no negative reactions.”
In truth, it’s hard to imagine any scenario in which Walker will be proven wrong. In the days leading up to Thursday’s game, his former coaches and teammates here have showered him with praise. Few players in the league were as beloved by their fan base as Walker was here, despite making the playoffs just twice in eight years, and failing to advance in them once. The Hornets will undoubtedly give him a nice tribute video at some point before or during Thursday night’s game, and it will almost certainly be followed by a standing ovation.
“From day one when I signed here for the first time, he was probably the most welcoming person that welcomed me to Charlotte,” said Hornets forward Marvin Williams, Walker’s long-time teammate. “So just to have him kind of in your corner as a person is I think what we miss the most, what I miss the most I think in the locker room as well. Obviously he’s a great player, All-NBA, one of the best point guards in the NBA. Obviously we all wish him well and are pulling for him, but again, tonight he plays for Boston and we’ve got a job to do.
“It’ll be an emotional time for Kemba tonight and it should be. The city of Charlotte is excited to see him play. I’m sure he’s excited to be back in this building. And if I know Kemba, by [8 p.m.] he’ll be trying to be Kemba, and he’ll be trying to win the game.”
The Hornets have been one of the early surprise teams of this NBA season, coming into Thursday’s game with three straight victories and a winning record after being projected to be one of the worst teams in the league. Walker said he’s been keeping close tabs on his former team, and has been especially happy for his former backup point guard, second-year man Devonte’ Graham, who had 35 points in Tuesday’s overtime win here over the Indiana Pacers.
“I watch every game,” Walker said. “I watch every game, whenever we are not playing at the same time.
“It’s exciting, actually, to see their growth, especially Devonte’, he stole a couple of my moves, I see that in his game a little bit,” Walker added with a smile. “But it’s so exciting. I know how hard those guys work, and I was their vet last year, Devonte’ and Miles [Bridges] and Dwayne [Bacon], we were always together, and even now we have a little group chat that we’re always in, talking. So yeah, we still communicate.
“But yeah, those are my guys forever, regardless of what teams we are on. That’s what it’s about, man. That’s what this league is about. Creating friendships and maintaining them, and that’s how it’s been.”
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