Kemba Walker Credit: Bill Moore photo

Bronx native Kemba Walker had long established himself as New York City basketball royalty before signing with his hometown team this past August. It is a union that brought Walker full circle, from playing at Madison Square Garden as a high school star for head coach Moe Hicks at the legendary Harlem Catholic school Rice, to carrying the UConn Huskies to the 2011 Big East championship in his junior year in one of the most iconic collegiate postseason performances ever.

In five games over five consecutive days, the 6-foot-1 point guard scored a major conference-record 130 points, culminating with a victory over Louisville that catapulted the Huskies to an unlikely and odds-defying NCAA title, defeating Butler University, who at the time was coached by Brad Stevens, for whom Walker would later play with the Boston Celtics.

His stellar pro career, including the first eight years with the Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets, a franchise with which he became one of its greatest and most beloved players, then on to the Celtics for the 2019 through the 2021 seasons, saw Walker selected to four All-Star teams (2017-2020), the All-NBA Third Team, and he was a two-time recipient of the prestigious NBA Sportsmanship Award.  

However, his experience Tuesday night when the Knicks took on the Philadelphia 76ers at the Garden was as viscerally meaningful to the high character role model as any of the aforementioned accolades. With 4:06 remaining in the second quarter, Walker knocked down a 16-foot step back jumper to push the Knicks’ lead to 49-38. By the time he drained a 25-foot three-pointer at 1:42, Walker had gone on a one-man, 10-point scoring spree for his team, pushing the Knicks’ advantage to 57-40 sending the crowd into a frenzy. Many exuberantly chanted his name.

“I was waiting for that moment. It was the kind of moment I dreamed of when I was a young kid, wanting to be in the NBA, watching the Knicks play, coming to a Knicks game and seeing how the crowd goes crazy,” he said after pacing the Knicks with 19 points, in a 112-99 win, improving their record to 3-1 before facing the Chicago Bulls tonight and the New Orleans Pelicans Saturday, both on the road. “That was a great moment for me.”

For the fans as well, who so deeply desire their New York made son to excel. “It was fun. Hopefully we can have more moments like that. It was just such a great team win. Everybody contributed in many different ways, and that’s how New York basketball is. Everybody brings us together.”

Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau also savored the occasion. Walker has added depth, maturity and leadership to his ballclub, as well as someone that can create off the dribble for himself and his teammates, critical skills they were lacking last season.

“I thought he played a great game,” said Thibodeau. “So tonight, I thought the way Kemba played helped set the tone.”

Although Tuesday wasn’t Walker’s first game at MSG since joining the Knicks, it was demonstrably his welcome home party.

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