Leading up to NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago, fans had an opportunity to vote on an all-time starting five of Chicago-born players. Derrick Rose, Isiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, Anthony Davis and Antoine Walker were crowned the winners, and the results were announced at Posterized: The Chicago Experience (powered by Jim Beam) at the Chicago Sports Museum.
HoopsHype had a chance to chat with Walker shortly after he received this honor. The three-time All-Star averaged 17.5 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.2 steals over the course of his 12-year NBA career. We talked to Walker about Chicago’s all-time starting five, his impressive NBA career, life after basketball, his off-court endeavors, today’s NBA and more.
You were named to Chicago’s all-time starting five and this was announced at Posterized: The Chicago Experience (powered by Jim Beam). What does that honor mean to you?
Antoine Walker: I was excited and it means a lot because we have so much talent coming out of Chicago, including some guys that people don’t even know about. We’ve had so many guys who have made it to the pros and so many guys who have had great careers. To be recognized by people in Chicago and all around the world, it means the world to me. There was some stiff competition too. Mark Aguirre didn’t make the Top 5, but he should be in the Hall of Fame and he should be in the city’s all-time Top 5 because he was one of the greatest players to ever play, but he never gets his just due. To be able to get some just due makes me feel really, really good.
Chicago has produced so many talented players over the years. Why do you think we’ve seen so many great players come from Chicago and is there something that this city’s players have in common?
AW: I think we’ve seen so many great players come from Chicago because of the foundation that was laid down a long time ago when you think about guys like Mark Aguirre, Isiah Thomas, Maurice Cheeks and Tim Hardaway. Honestly, I also believe it’s because of the media. There’s a lot of coverage of Chicago sports and it starts at such an early age. I remember being in eighth grade and being ranked the No. 1 eighth-grader in the state. I think because we put such an emphasis on the sport of basketball, that makes a lot of kids want to play. We’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of pros come out of this city. Our list of pros is just as strong as any other city in the world. This is a sports town and people really get excited about basketball, and they get behind these players and teams. I think that’s why you see [some] people consider it to be the Mecca.
You were ahead of your time with your three-point shooting. People used to criticize your shot selection because you attempted a lot of threes, but with how the game has evolved, clearly you were onto something. Do you feel vindicated?
AW: Oh, without question! I probably would’ve made $300 million in today’s NBA, if I could’ve played in this day and age! But I think it shows the skill level of big men. We’re seeing that big guys can do some of the things that small guys can do. It was a tough time for me when I was doing it; I used to get ripped for shooting so many threes. But I really give Jim O’Brien a lot of credit. When he took over for Rick Pitino, he’s the one who instilled that confidence in me as a shooter. He’d say, “Anytime you get an opportunity to shoot, shoot it!” Once he put that confidence in me, I didn’t have a problem shooting. I wasn’t bashful. (laughs) I went out there and played my game. Now, playing that way is looked at as exciting. And it is fun to watch! Watching some of these big men take the ball full-court, coast to coast, and then seeing some of these centers be able to step out and shoot threes – guys like Marc Gasol and Anthony Davis – it makes for a fun style of basketball.
Are there any current players who remind you of yourself?
AW: Hmm, I don’t know. I like Draymond Green and his all-around game. He’s a better defender, but as far as his skill set – pushing the basketball, getting other guys shots and things like that… I probably shot the three better than him, but I really like the way he plays. I like Giannis Antetokoumpo’s versatility and long arms and ability to make plays for other people. I like all forwards who get five or six assists per game, the guys who are really good passers. Those are the guys who I really enjoy watching – not necessarily that our games are similar, but more so that our mindset and the way we approach the game are similar. I really enjoy watching those guys play.
What was it like making the transition to broadcasting and how are you enjoying that?
AW: The transition has been great because it gave me a chance to be connected to the game again. I’ve really enjoyed it. I’m a student of the game and I love the NBA game as well as the college game. I watch basketball every single day. It’s part of my life, so to be able to now talk about it every day is really special to me. A lot of guys don’t get an opportunity to continue to do what we love and still be a part of this game at the level that I’m at, so I don’t take it for granted. I really love the opportunity to talk about the game that I love.
If you could go back and give 20-year-old Antoine advice, what would it be?
AW: It would probably be teaching him about generational wealth. I never thought about generational wealth when I was playing and making a lot of money. I would make sure that I have enough money not only for myself but for my kids and their kids. I wish somebody would’ve taught me about generational wealth and how I wouldn’t be able to play this game forever and that, after I retire, I’d still have the rest of my life to live. I wish somebody would’ve told me that at age 20.
That’s what I would tell my 20-year-old self, and that’s what I make sure to tell all of these young guys who are playing in the league now. I just try to turn a negative into a positive and teach these young guys. When you’re 19 or 20 years old, you just see that you’re making a lot of money right now, but one day that comes to an end. Make sure you’ve put aside enough money for yourself and your kids and their kids. Make sure you have generational wealth.
In the past, we’ve discussed your bankruptcy and work as a financial adviser to athletes. I know you work with Edyoucore and Greg Oden recently became an athlete advisor with them as well. Greg told me that while he enjoys it, he hopes that these athletes listen and actually apply these lessons. When you’ve talked to players, how do they typically respond and does it seem like your advice sinks in?
AW: I think it really is impacting them. I think it starts a conversation and I think it puts a lot of things on their mind since they’re dealing with their own personal situations. They may not publicly come out and say that they’re taking that advice, but I know that a lot of them are taking it wholeheartedly and applying it to their life. I think you’re going to see that the percentage of athletes and entertainers who have financial problems after their career ends is going to change. And I think it’s because of these types of programs, which are very impactful. You’d be surprised how many guys come up to me afterward to thank me for coming and thank me for sharing my story and ask for more information. They talk about how they’re going to take that information and use it in their own life and make the right decisions. I think this is going to be a tremendous help, and I think it’s off to a great start.
In addition to the financial advising and broadcasting, do you have any other off-court endeavors you’re working on?
AW: I’m coming out with a book, hopefully here in the next two months. It’s going to be a financial-literacy learning tool for everybody – not just athletes. I want to share my story and the things that I’ve learned. And I just want to continue to grow. I’m very comfortable in the space that I’m in right now. I want to continue to grow my TV career to where I can continue to be a TV analyst for 10-15 more years. I want to continue to grow in that space.
But I also have aspirations of one day working for an NBA team, maybe in a front office. I’d like to try to build a championship team. I believe that I have a very good basketball IQ and I think I know the game very well, so I think I could be a positive addition to any front office. That’s on my bucket list – hopefully one day I can work for a team and help them win a championship.
Who was the toughest defender you ever faced? Were there certain players you dreaded facing because they’d lock you down?
AW: I would say it was the guys with length, like Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Rasheed Wallace. Those kind of guys were very tough for me to go up against. Because of their length, I wasn’t really able to post them up the way I would like to, so I would always have to take them off the dribble or step back and shoot the three.
But the guy who was probably the toughest to score against was probably Dennis Rodman. That goes back to my first couple of years in the league. I played against Dennis in ‘96, ‘97 and ‘98 during their championship runs and he was tough as nails and so hard to score against. Those guys were really the ones who gave me trouble. Length was something that always bothered me.
Chicago’s all-time starting five was announced at Posterized: The Chicago Experience, which was a fun event that showcased Chicago’s food, music and art. What did you think of the party?
AW: I loved it, man. I thought it was a great event. When you think about how the All-Star Game hadn’t been in Chicago in 32 years, I thought they did a great job highlighting our city – and not just the basketball. The concept behind the Posterized event was showing people Chicago and what it’s like; it wasn’t just about our basketball. Obviously, it was built around basketball and All-Star Weekend, but it highlighted Garrett’s Popcorn, Chicago dogs, step dancing and teaching people how we dance, our art, the celebrities who came out were from Chicago and have been influential in Chicago and things like that. I thought it was great and it showed Chicago in a different light. I really enjoyed the event, and I loved being a part of it. And it was extra exciting that I got some love while I was there, finishing in the all-time Top 5! It was great all around.
Basketball, Interview, NBA, Evergreen, Featured, Interview, Top, Antoine Walker, Derrick Rose, Draymond Green, Dwyane Wade, Giannis Antetokoumpo, Isiah Thomas, Kevin Garnett, Rasheed Wallace, Tim Duncan, Tim Hardaway, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat