Charlotte’s sports scene may not be on the same level as what fans around New England are accustomed to, but that hasn’t prevented two of the area’s most high-profile sports teams from tapping into the pool of pro talent from the Queen City.
Kemba Walker arrived in Boston last summer as a replacement of sorts for the Boston Celtics, who were looking to fill the cavernous void left by Kyrie Irving’s decision to take his talents to Brooklyn.
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Now almost a year later, a professional team in New England has once again turned to the Charlotte pro scene for talent with the New England Patriots coming to terms on a one-year deal with former Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
Not only are Walker and Newton former face-of-the-franchise talents in Charlotte, but their journey towards being the man in that market both began in 2011.
That's when Walker was drafted with the ninth overall pick in the NBA draft while Newton was the top overall pick in the NFL draft just a few weeks prior to Walker’s selection.
The parallels between their two careers now being in New England after beginning in Charlotte at the same time is not lost on Walker.
Walker, speaking to the media via conference call on Wednesday, said the whole situation “is just insane to me.”
He added, “I’m happy for him.”
While the specifics surrounding each of their departures from Charlotte varied, the bottom line for both players was the same — they didn’t want to leave.
Walker left because the Hornets were unwilling to pay him anywhere close to the maximum-salary he was eligible to receive. He wound up doing a sign-and-trade deal that netted him a four-year, $141 million contract in Boston.
One of the worst kept secrets in the NFL was how Newton, who had been besieged by injuries in recent years, was anyone’s to take via trade last season.
The Panthers eventually waived him, but did so eight days after the start of free agency, which meant many of the teams that might have had interest in signing him had already addressed the position.
And with the global pandemic having put physicals for athletes on pause, there was no way any team was going to sign Newton without getting an update on his medicals with their own doctors.
Newton was eventually able to do enough to alleviate some of the medical concerns, which opened the door for an incentive-laden one-year deal with the Patriots that reportedly could be worth as much as $7.5 million.
Like Walker, Newton will be looking for a fresh start in a market that’s dramatically different than the one he left.
But Newton’s challenge will be much greater than that of Walker, in large part because Newton will be coming in to fill the enormous shoes of Tom Brady (now in Tampa Bay) who is arguably the greatest quarterback to ever play the game.
No one knows for sure how Newton will fare in a new system and with a new fan base while playing for a team that has a very different set of expectations for its best players and the team as a whole.
But Walker doesn’t appear worried about how Newton will fit in.
“I know the fans out there are gonna love him a lot,” Walker said. “I’m looking forward to hopefully when the world opens back up, getting out there to a game and supporting him.”