On December 19th, 2008, the Memphis Grizzlies waived veteran forward Antoine Walker. Then, at age 32, his career seemed very likely over.
However, two seasons later, the former University of Kentucky standout is preparing for a comeback to the league.
Walker announced his desire to attempt a return in May when he confirmed he would soon begin training with Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino, his coach at Kentucky and with the Boston Celtics.
Walker's uncle Chico, a former player for the Boston Red Sox, spoke of his nephew's progress in an interview with WEEI, a sports radio network in Boston.
According to Chico Walker, the 2006 NBA Champion has shed between 18 to 25 pounds and has drawn interest from four to six NBA franchises.
Chico Walker has also noticed a change in his nephew's attitude towards his responsibilities on the court and in his daily life.
"He said, 'I made a lot of mistakes, and I trusted the wrong people. I realized going forward I have to have positive people around me, just in life period. I have to have a lot of positive people around.' And I think he gets it now," the former Red Sox player disclosed in the interview, quoting his nephew.
In the last couple years, Antoine Walker's image has been damaged professionally and personally.
In January 2009, the 6'9" forward was arrested for driving while intoxicated in Miami Beach, a crime of which he has yet to be convicted.
Later that year, in July, he was charged with three felony counts of writing fraudulent checks, which added up to approximately $800,000 of debts to three Las Vegas Casinos. On June 30th, 2010, Walker plead "not guilty" to the crimes.
In February of this year, Walker announced his return to basketball, signing a contract with the Mets de Guaynabo, a Puerto Rican team. The three-time NBA All-Star's exodus to Puerto Rico was reportedly made to escape from his negative press in the States, while still playing professional basketball. His bad press followed him, however, and the team released him on April 1st.
On May 18th, Antoine Walker filed for bankruptcy, claiming debts of $12.7 million.
Despite all the negativity though, the Chicago native remains persistent on his path back to the NBA. According to his uncle, other than the impressive weight loss, Walker is open to accepting any role with a team and understands he will most likely never again receive a guaranteed contract.
“He’s definitely looking to go into training camp, but he knows it’s not going to be a guaranteed contract,” Chico stated. “He’s going to have to go in and make a team, and he understands that. That’s where he is in terms of his conditioning. He knows he has to go in there and earn a spot. Nothing’s going to be given to him regardless of what he’s done in the past."
Relating to his past, Walker appeared in three All-Star Games, won a college basketball National Championship with the Kentucky Wildcats in 1996, and played for the 2006 NBA Finals Champions, the Miami Heat. His career averages, over thirteen years, are 17.5 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game. He has played for the Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Memphis Grizzlies.
Ultimately, at age 34, his days of being a league All-Star have passed, but for the reinvented Antoine Walker just wearing an NBA jersey may be more important.