When Henry Walker – a wingman for the Miami Heat – began the season with the Development League’s Sioux Falls Skyforce, the NBA in all fairness, was nothing but a forgotten dream.
“Walker contemplated ditching his NBA goals. After all, he had failed in every attempt to make people understand him, and figured he would have a fresh start in Europe,” his agent Mike Naidtich told Basketball Insiders.
After dipping into the Philippines and life in Latin America, Walker was open to testing basketball in Europe. Over the summer, multiple teams showed initial interest, but faded into the background as a result of his $20,000 per month tag.
“One team, Hapoel Tel Aviv,” Naiditch said, “made a late push for $14,000 per month.”
Former Kansas State University guard Jacob Pullen recorded a stint in Israel, while K-State alumnus Curtis Kelly was voted into the local All-Star game; so the transition to a stats-friendly league could’ve been smooth. However, Walker turned down the up-and-coming Israeli powerhouse in favor of spending time with, and providing his three-year-old daughter Millan the father-figure he never had.
Born in West Virginia, Walker was raised by his mother Nancy, and the two bounced around quite often.
Walker, 27, would grow into a teen basketball stud and a starter at North College Hill High School in Ohio. He was a consensus collegiate recruit sharing the court with future NBA All-Rookie First Team guard, O.J. Mayo.
Walker committed to K-State much because of the father-figure he saw in then head coach Bob Huggins. Their bond, though, was short-lived as Huggins left for West Virginia University. Walker then felt abandonment and experienced difficulties in accepting Frank Martin as the new head coach.
Growing up, Mayo and Henry shared the same surrogate father but were two different people with diverse paths. While both entered in the 2008 NBA Draft, Mayo was selected No. 3 overall. Walker on the other hand, dropped late into the second-round.
“These kids had a Cain and Able type of setup,” a source familiar with their upbringing told Basketball Insiders. “Mayo was attention-grabbing and the polar opposite of Walker. Mayo always seemed to have a large entourage while Walker was sheltered and shying away from attention,” the source said.
“As it turns out, being with Millan gave Henry motivation to give it one more shot; not to make the NBA, but to prove he can become a better man,” Naiditch added.
This was no surprise.
Walker, who once averaged an NBA career-high double-digit scoring figures as a starter for the New York Knicks amid Linsanity, suffered from multiple injuries, anger-management issues, and a troublesome reputation. He was a volcano waiting to explode.
Here is a short list of his defective resume:
- When at Kansas State, Walker ruptured his ACL.
- Still in college, Walker urinated into a towel on the sidelines during a game.
- In a prestigious invite-only pre-draft group audition in Oakland in 2008, Walker suffered another serious knee injury and was forced to cancel all remaining NBA workouts.
- As a member of the New York Knicks, Walker injured his elbow and required surgery.
- Though Walker recovered almost a year later, he still suffered from the stress of failure and abandonment.
- In 2013, despite serious interest from the San Antonio Spurs – who saw Walker as a solid veteran to provide help in a postseason push – he was suspended from the Austin Toros for fighting in practice, blowing whatever shot he had at an NBA ring.
- In 2014, after just one game in the Philippines, Walker was called to the commissioner’s office to apologize for fighting and harassing the refs. He went on to post impressive numbers: 21.4 points, 8.9 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game.
Frustrated and misunderstood, Naidtich suggested anger management counselling for the second time (the first was paused in favor of a lucrative job in Venezuela where Walker registered 14.3 points per contest).
Headed into the 2014-15 season, and his second campaign with the Skyforce, Walker received outside assistance on a regular basis. Even if it just meant someone to talk to, Walker wanted help in reshaping his image and controlling his temper.
“This is where the transformation started,” Naiditch explained. “Henry was a model citizen for Sioux Falls. He often mentioned that he was ‘in a good place’. His anger was non-existent and the plan was to return overseas after the D-League season.”
Then, while posting 15.1 points on 44.8 percent shooting from the perimeter in the D-League, Walker’s fate would change. Miami called up Walker on a 10-day deal in what assured the veteran journeyman that his hard work and self-improvement hadn’t gone unnoticed.
Battling for a playoffs spot in the East, Miami, the No. 7 seed, rewarded Walker with a second 10-day contract after registering 11.7 points, 3.2 board and a single dime over four games.
Walker went from planning life overseas to knocking down clutch passes from Dwyane Wade.
“It’s possible,” a source said, “that Walker will stick with Miami for the remainder of the season.” Miami doesn’t have the luxury of bringing in players without NBA experience and without knowledge of the Heat’s system. This resulted in Miami signing Michael Beasley – a former Heat draftee – who returned from China.
Seizing a window of opportunity to resurrect his image and jump-start his life both on and off the hardwood, Walker is that much closer to riding off into the sunset with his shining pride. And his daughter, of course.
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