BOSTON -- Antoine Walker grew up in Chicago and watched the Chicago Bulls’ reign atop the NBA landscape with the lead architect being Michael Jeffrey Jordan.
The two became acquaintances when Walker entered the league in 1996, the way the established welcomes in the NBA’s latest round of wide-eyed, eager-to-be-great ballers.
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But according to Walker, it wasn’t until Jordan left the NBA and began to plot his comeback in 2001 that his relationship with the basketball icon went to another level.
“He reached out to me about working out and training with him,” Walker told NBC Sports Boston.
Once it sunk in that he was going to be working out with Jordan, then reality set in that well, Jordan’s offseason idea of working out was very different than what Walker was accustomed to doing.
“The thing is, I’m a basketball junkie,” Walker said. “So, my first few years in the league, I just played basketball four days out of the week. I was never really a weights guy and got in the weight room. So, the biggest thing when I got with him, is you gotta lift weights.”
Days would begin with lifting weights, something Walker said Jordan was “militant about.”
Walker added, “He wants to get stronger. That was like the fist shocker and obviously how hard he works. You lift weights, go to the court, do individual instruction and we played every day Monday through Thursday at 2 o’clock.”
But Jordan’s rules for games? That, too, was an adjustment for Walker.
“He wants to have three referees. He doesn’t want players calling fouls,” Walker recalled. “He wants a game flow to it. He wants the game short to seven.”
Jordan’s comeback with the Washington Wizards that year had mixed results.
He led the team in scoring (22.9), assists (5.2) and steals (1.42), but torn cartilage in his right knee cut his season short at 60 games - the fewest he had played in since he appeared in 17 games upon his previous post-retirement return with the Bulls in 1994.
Walker, who will join Brian Scalabrine for present-day commentary on our "Classic Celtics" series on Sunday as we feature his Celtics' 1997 opening night matchup against Jordan's Bulls, would continue to have a solid NBA career as a three-time All-Star whose career stats in Boston rank among the franchise’s greats.
But a chance to play a pivotal role in the comeback of arguably the greatest player of this generation ranks right up there with his greatest accomplishments in the NBA.
“It was one of the most unbelievable, surreal feelings for me as a player,” Walker said. “One, to have [Jordan] want me to work out with him and to be part of his comeback story that year was special. That’s when our relationship really started.”
And it’s a relationship Walker said wasn’t just limited to workout sessions.
“We ended up hanging out on a consistent basis up until he was the owner of the Bobcats [now Charlotte Hornets]."