The Wonderful, Terrible Bill Walker

Bill Walker was supposed to be a star in the NBA. He isn't one—and that's fine.
Share |
Yeah, it is kind of hard to believe.

Image courtesy of Knicksnow.com.

Average together every NBA swingman of the last 10 years and you get something... pretty impressive, actually, but complicated. You have: a gifted athlete with intermittently dazzling but generally under-developed on-court skills; a player who shows flashes of brilliance, but who also can’t help but play outside his ability when on the court for too long. This is a player who clearly spent much of his pre-NBA life being far better than most everyone else on the floor. For very brief stretches, he can still look that good.

This player is fun to play with in a video game because he can dunk and he can shoot; this player, though, seems notably less fun to coach, if only because of how thin things can get between the dunking and shooting. This is why basketball video games are great, and why NBA Jam was the greatest, and why actual basketball is also great, and also nothing at all like NBA Jam’s distillation of the sport to its least-essential forms. This player is Bill Walker, an archetype currently earning his paycheck and variable minutes with the New York Knicks.

Bill Walker can shoot well, and he can sometimes do so against good teams. The inverse applies, there, too. Walker dunks against bad and good teams—not just open-court, nothing-at-stake jams, either. Virtuoso dunks visible a mile off, but which seem implausible until you hear the dunker screaming, and suddenly there’s a man standing under the hoop, staring into the stands and looking like he might’ve crapped his pants. Bill Walker gets up that way—higher and then higher, twisting as he does it, around and over someone who wouldn’t fit under your doorway.

Bill Walker can earn that sort of awe, but Bill Walker is also on balance a completely replaceable NBA player. His success—meaning, the few times he helps the Knicks and will help whatever other teams employ him before his career’s end—comes from him doing the Bill Walker things, and stringing together just enough dunks and threes, just enough times in a row, to create the appearance of consistency. Really, though, it’s just the very definition of randomness. Who and what he is is something fans across the league try to come to terms with on a nightly basis.

***

In college, at the beginning of soccer practice, our team played a game called speedball. The object was to score on a goal, and the ball could be moved only by hand-passing it or dribbling it with your feet. Passing was way more efficient—even though this was soccer—because you could move the ball quickly down the field, provided the team moved together, always with someone to support whoever caught the next pass. Bill Walker would be good at speedball, but the NBA is not speedball. There is the need to dribble the ball, whether to unsettle the defense or get out of a spot and move the offense toward scoring. Which is problematic, in this case, because Bill Walker cannot dribble. At least, he can’t do it in the second-nature way most wing-or-smaller NBA players can.

It’s the most basic skill. There is the natural impulse, upon finding a basketball in one’s hands, to bounce it as you decide what to do next; it is something you do simply by virtue of having a basketball in your hands. I don’t know how Bill Walker learned to play the sport, but I have a picture of him in my head, playing at a park. It’s cold. He’s in shorts, a hoodie, and probably a cowboy hat (don’t ask). He takes a shot, and then someone tosses him the ball, he takes another shot, and then someone goes to hand him another ball. This time he grabs the ball and runs toward the hoop and slams it without dribbling. He jogs back and does it all again, and then again. And he’s not doing this to show off; he’s doing it because, to him, that’s basketball, and no one ever told him it wasn’t.

***

Bill Walker’s actual hoop adolescence, cowboy hat or not, is the stuff of basketball-nerd legend. Walker grew up in West Virginia and then Kentucky and Ohio. He played basketball from elementary school on with O.J. Mayo and possible-grandpa and definitely-creepy mentor/AAU coach/guardian/weird person Dwaine Barnes, who orchestrated the duo’s rise from puberty to the pros. From middle school on, Walker was one of the “next big things,” a freak athlete, the next Vince Carter. He was always the best kid, somehow, unfairly, always playing with the other best kid. When you can dunk on everyone or—if you’re bored—hoist up a three, why on earth wouldn’t you? Miss, and you’ll just get the ball back and do it all again, and at the end of the game you get to win. It’s not that Walker’s coaches—Barnes, then Bob Huggins and Frank Martin at Kansas State—failed him so much as they let him do what he does best without ever really asking him to do anything else, or requiring that he learn to do anything else. And this is how Walker still plays, except that he’s not the best kid in the gym any more.

Based on roster rules and salary cap structures, every team has at least one Bill Walker: a player with definite NBA-level skills, but someone just too flawed—or too unfinished, maybe, is the word—ever to play consistently without risking the possibility of mutinous fans, unemployed coaches, and a cranky blogosphere. With the Knicks’ top-heavy roster, before Earl, Baron and Steve Novak, Walker briefly pushed closer to that tipping point.

Sonny Vaccaro, the famed ABCD Camp czar, has called Walker one of the first victims of the NBA’s straight-out-of-high-school ban. Walker would’ve bypassed college if he could’ve, and probably been a lottery pick. Instead, he was forced to go to Kansas State, where he blew out his knee in his first season and ate popcorn on the sideline. He played a year with Michael Beasley, hurt his knee again in pre-draft workouts, and fell to the second round.

Walker also blew out his knee as a high school freshman, and those two injuries—plus the time and on-the-job training they cost him—doubtless helped create present-day Bill Walker. If anything, though, the injuries muted his Bill Walker-ness, which is, perhaps perversely, almost certainly a good thing for anyone who’s ever been forced to root for him.

It’s tragic, in a way, when someone earmarked for greatness from such a young age never delivers on the promises everyone else made for him. It’s tragic because this is a kid, a fully un-formed human being, who’s supposed to make something of these extra-human physical gifts, and can’t, or doesn’t. Couldn’t have—shouldn’t have—someone made sure this worked out? And it’s tragic, too, because it all seems like an accident; the knee injuries, the bizarre path through high school, and the stone-wall timing of the early-entry rule all adding up to something that never fully formed.

But “tragic” might also be the wrong word. Because Bill Walker is still playing and getting paid to play in the NBA. Despite his past promise, Bill Walker is an utterly average basketball player, like so many other guys who’ve shuffled in and out of the NBA over the past decade and the decades before, but he is indeed an NBA player. The league is filled with guys who overachieved and proved people wrong, but it’s also filled with the one’s who were supposed to be something bigger and just became something normal. That Bill Walker was supposed to be so great and became so average is a symbol of American basketball’s volatility as good as any other.

***

Even still, it’s fun to watch Bill Walker play. It’s fun because his name is Bill Walker, he has 90’s-rapper hair, and he can occasionally hit a three or throw down a jaw-dropping dunk. It is, however, not always fun to watch Bill Walker play basketball as a Knicks fan. Walker doesn’t inspire any Jared Jeffries-ian ire, because his compensation is roughly fair given what he provides and because he’s insulated somewhat by his underlying ridiculousness. It cushions him, but it doesn’t make him any easier to watch. 

It’s so painful because Bill Walker comes into the game and dribbles the ball off his foot and misses shots and fouls his man. It’s even more painful because Bill Walker is totally lovable, and totally and inextricably Bill Walker. He’s still a quirky, seemingly sweet-natured kid from Huntington, West Virginia. He calls soda “pop.” He calls Al Trautwig “chief.” And he thinks the funky chicken is hilarious. That is, I like Bill Walker, and he seems like someone who might be a good teammate and an entertaining person to be around. I don’t know if this is true, though he definitely does and says things that seem different. I mean… the Funky Chicken is his idea of a good time.

When Javale McGee sprints to the other end of the court while his team still has the ball, he’s not helping the Wizards win, but he’s making everyone—outside of a handful of hopeless curmudgeons—happy, baffled Wiz fans included. When Manu Ginobili catches a bat with his bare hands, the Spurs don’t necessarily win, but some amusement and enjoyment results from him doing so. It’s somewhat sad, sure, that Bill Walker never quite learned to play basketball, but his absolute absence of polish is part of what he delivers as an entertainer—would he offer more to fans, besides those hoping his team wins, if he knew how to dribble or didn’t think a certain iconic board game was called “Mon-op-o-lay?” In the end, caring about a team is more than hoping that team wins a championship, and liking the team is finally just liking it. If Walker didn’t quite learn basketball from Huggins, or Martin, or anyone else, he still learned enough to teach us something—that there are things more entertaining, and maybe more important and certainly more human, than winning.


Share |

Comments

Your blogs are easily accessible and quite enlightening so keep doing the amazing work guys. roofing repair Tampa

I found this is an informative and interesting post so i think so it is very useful and knowledgeable. I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article
Tenet Singapore

We've certainly not after go through a chunk that will details precisely what I truly do together with your the latest web site really does. Thanks a lot to the honor!
slimquick for women

To be a Rookie, My business is for good researching on the net intended for articles or blog posts which might be connected with assistance to everyone. Appreciate it. Trauma Counseling in Centennial Colorado

he might’ve crapped his pants. Bill Walker gets up that way—higher and then higher, twisting as he does it, around and over someone who wouldn’t fit under your doorway.
for more info

Thanks for you information, this is very interesting post. Visit us, site where you will find tips and the most complete. packers and movers pune rates

The idea thinks wonderful you just read this sort of helpful along with exclusive content on the internet sites.
erect on demand kegel exercises

Each of us have minimum 3 years experience in SEO/link building . We just love to do our work professionally. We have achieved many ranking success in Google.We just invent new tricks to achieve TOP ranking.
dofollow quality backlink

he might’ve crapped his pants. Bill Walker gets up that way—higher and then higher, twisting as he does it, around and over someone who wouldn’t fit under your doorway.
girlsdoporn

Which could perform short-term, yet it’s not just a feasible long-term remedy regarding fellas who would like to become your a single specific lady they will can’t quit contemplating.
walkin clinic brampton

Them believes magnificent to read simple things these enlightening plus exceptional reports against your web pages. super artemisinin

Right after studying the sites, My partner and i thus desire to set up my own, personal essayteam at the same time! Imperial Blades

I am interested in such topics so I will address page where it is cool described. Ex Factor Guide

I was reading your article and wondered if you had considered creating an eBook on this subject. Your writing would sell it fast. You have a lot of writing talent
REAL ESTATE VIDEO

It's extremely comprehensible and very savvy. You have even figured out how to make it reasonable and simple to peruse. You have some genuine written work ability. Much obliged to you
REAL ESTATE INVESTING

This article has some vast and valuable information about this subject. los angeles emergency plumber

It’s an assessment web site. Might you look it over for people and also inform us just how trustworthy these kinds of critiques are usually?
scorpion venom

My own close friends are usually crazy about your website now My partner and i realize why.
erect on demand reviews

Very nice article, exactly what I needed. Very useful post i really appreciate thanks for sharing such a nice post. I wanna thanks to a great extent for providing such informative and qualitative material therefore often.
app empire

My own close friends are usually crazy about your website now My partner and i realize why.
sweet wormwood

This text may be value everyone’s attention. How will I learn more?
discount auto insurance

The vital information in this blogs has allured me. life insurance comparison website

Personally I think overjoyed I discovered the blogs. va payday loans

Acknowledges for paper such a beneficial composition, I stumbled beside your blog besides decipher a limited announce. I want your technique of inscription... The Respect Principle

I’m definitely going to look into it. Really very useful tips are provided here. Thank you so much. delhi to jaipur taxi

I'm certainly very happy to read this blog site posts which carries plenty of helpful data, thanks for providing such information. more info

I enjoy a person's posting. Its fine to check out you actually explain in words with the soul plus resolution during this vital matter is often without difficulty viewed. specifics perspective web-site.
artemisinin

A professional locksmith specializes in opening and repairing automotive locks, replacing keys and generally resolving lock problems for owners of motorcycles, cars, vans, trucks, and all kinds of automotive machines with locks.auto locksmiths

Many thanks regarding submitting this kind of fantastic write-up! I came across your internet site perfect for my own wants. It includes great and also beneficial content. Maintain the nice perform!
high pr do-follow backlinks

Acknowledges for paper such a beneficial composition, I stumbled beside your blog besides decipher a limited announce. I want your technique of inscription... Cosmic Ordering Secrets review

Big thanks to you for sharing such great information. Mobile Optin Bonus

It all is impressive to read the paper these types of interesting together with different article content for your web-sites.
michael fiore secret survey

I'm certainly very happy to read this blog site posts which carries plenty of helpful data, thanks for providing such information. pure slim cleanse

There is so much in this article that I would never have thought of on my own. Your content gives readers things to think about in an interesting way. Talk to His Heart Review

Dock Ghalib is usually an overseas getaway, some sort of highest regarded bundled hotel group connected with variance, pastime in addition to wide variety.
middle east real estate

Hmm!! This blog is really cool, I’m so lucky that I have reached here and got this awesome information.pay day loans

For this web site, you will see our account, remember to go through this info. Obsession Phrases Review

The writer understand better the mind of people what they want to learn through their writing therefore this article is outstanding. Thanks!!! download youcam perfect

We've certainly not after go through a chunk that will details precisely what I truly do together with your the latest web site really does. Thanks a lot to the honor!
smart member chris record reviews

On this page you can read my interests, write something special. What Men Secretly Want

Truly, this article is really one of the very best in the history of articles. I am a antique ’Article’ collector and I sometimes read some new articles if I find them interesting. And I found this one pretty fascinating and it should go into my collection. Very good work! Revolutionary Sex Review

These are truly amongst the wonderful informative blogs.
payday loan with saving account

It's late finding this act. At least, it's a thing to be familiar with that there are such events exist. I agree with your Blog and I will be back to inspect it more in the future so please keep up your act. Start Potty Training Review

I'm certainly very happy to read this blog site posts which carries plenty of helpful data, thanks for providing such information. Low obl and high pr backlinks

This is a site about the famous Alien parfum by Thierry Mugler. Smelling this unbelievable scent is somehow mesmerizing men throughout the world since it´s creation in the year 2005. We researched everything about this scent and tell you what you should know before buying it. Furthermore you can learn about the different nuances in the overtone, heart and base note and how long this perfume is going to last.alien parfum günstig

This is a wonderful article, Given so much info in it, These type of articles keeps the users interest in the website, and keep on sharing more ... good luck. Best Credit Card for Teenagers

It’s a classic great for me to go to this blog site, it offers helpful suggestions
life insurance family plans

Thank you for another great article. Where else could anyone get that kind of presentation next week, and I am on the look for such information. buy mixcloud plays