Walker’s Fall From Grace a Microcosm of Boston’s ’90s Stars


Jul 21, 2009

Walker's Fall From Grace a Microcosm of Boston's '90s Stars Back when he wore green, Antoine Walker had a promising NBA career ahead of him.

Now, he's short on green — $822,500 of it, to be exact.

Walker, the former Celtics star and No. 6 overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft, was arrested Wednesday night in Harrah’s Casino in South Lake Tahoe. A warrant had been issued for Walker's arrest after he failed to repay nearly a million dollars in gambling debts. He now faces three felony counts of writing bad checks — he allegedly attempted fraudulent payments to Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood and the Red Rock Resort.

Quite a fall from grace for a man who's earned almost $100 million in his career. How did it come to this?

Walker was a lottery pick in arguably the best NBA draft class of all time. By going sixth overall, he went ahead of future Hall of Famers Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash. Peja Stojakovic, Jermaine O'Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas also went late in that first round. Walker was better than all of them — destined to be the man who led the Celtics back to greatness.

And that dream, while a bit ambitious, wasn't a complete bust. 'Toine put up seven good seasons in Boston, averaging his 20 points and 8 rebounds without fail. But he never quite materialized into a superstar, and he never won anything meaningful in Boston.

In that respect, and in that era, he wasn't alone.

A generation of Boston sports fans came of age worshipping a trinity of 1990s stars — Nomar Garciaparra, Drew Bledsoe and Antoine Walker. They were young, they were popular, and they were getting richer by the minute. But most importantly, all three wanted to win championships in Boston — and all three had that potential.

Nomar was probably the best of the three. Coming to a franchise starved for a World Series title with fans desperate to anoint the savior who would finally bring them that title, Nomar was The Man. He was the most popular player in a Red Sox uniform since Carl Yastrzemski — or maybe Ted Williams. He drew comparisons to Williams, Stan Musial and Joe DiMaggio. He was the best pure hitter this town had seen in a long, long time.

Like Walker, Nomar was around for seven good years, and parts of an eighth, before being sent out the door in 2004. Upon his exit, he was seen as "the ultimate non-team guy," a man who polluted the Red Sox' clubhouse and left in disgrace.

Bledsoe, one of the best players in Washington State football history, was the Patriots' No. 1 overall draft pick in 1993. He was 21 when he was drafted and immediately placed under center as the Pats' starter; he was 24 when he reached his first Super Bowl. Before his 25th birthday, he was a three-time Pro Bowler.

With that kind of early success, he had the potential to be one of the all-time greats. And yet few Patriots fans will remember his exploits on the field quite like they'll remember his effect off it.

By going down with an injury in 2001, Bledsoe gave way to the rise of Tom Brady, who immediately carried the Patriots to the first of three Super Bowl victories. Bledsoe's lone appearance on a Super Sunday was a 35-21 loss at the hands of Brett Favre's Packers. When the Pats finally broke through, Bledsoe was standing on the sidelines.

Walker's Fall From Grace a Microcosm of Boston's '90s Stars The game is fickle. Greatness doesn't always last forever.

A generation of fans learned that the hard way — by watching their sports heroes strive for immortality and come up just a little short. Being immortal means never dying; being one of these three guys means seeing your career as good as dead by your 30th birthday.

Bledsoe, who later in his career was again supplanted by a rising star quarterback (this time, Dallas' Tony Romo), retired on April 11, 2007. He was 35, but he had been on the slow decline for five years.

Nomar hasn't been the same since his glory days in Boston, but he's still alive and kicking into his mid-thirties. The Oakland utility man turns 36 on Thursday, and he's still hacking away — and once in a blue moon, he even makes an appearance in Fenway.

As for Walker? Well, reportedly, the C's has-been was led out of Harrah's in handcuffs last Wednesday, and his bail has been set at $87,000. He's only 32 years old, and yet it's safe to say that he didn't turn out quite like Kobe or Nash.

But that's the way it works sometimes. All three of these former supposed superstars of Boston strove to be champions — and while all three technically have rings (Walker's came in 2006 with the Heat), they never got to be the Beantown heroes that we'd all pictured them being. All three teams moved on, and all three won plenty without their fallen heroes.

That's sports. Nothing ever works out exactly according to plan.

That's equally true on the craps table as it is on the basketball court. Speaking of learning lessons the hard way …

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