[In the mid-1960s, Providence College’s all-everything guard Jimmy Walker was sometimes called “the Mayor of Madison Square Garden” for his big nights under Manhattan’s big lights and as a play on the city’s infamous former head honcho of the same name. Most of the Garden faithful raved that they simply couldn’t recall a college kid with so many moves, spinning, twirling, crossing over, and getting to the hoop seemingly at will.
The “Mayor” went tops in the 1967 NBA draft to Detroit, which amounted to a classic bad fit. The Pistons already had the ball-dominant guard Dave Bing, the reigning NBA rookie of the year. Walker’s career got off to a predictably slow start and dribbled out below expectations in Detroit then Houston.
By October 1973, the Rockets unloaded the now 29-year-old Walker on the Kansas City-Omaha Kings, who were desperate for guard help with their young superstar Tiny Archibald was out for the season. Kansas City marked Walker’s last chance to hit it big in the NBA. Walker showed flashes of his old mayoral days during the 1973-74 season and seemed thrilled to be in Kansas City after a rough go in Houston.
“I’m looking forward to next year,” he told a reporter in March 1974. “A new arena, new uniforms, new expansions [teams]. But it all boils down to winning. I’m confident it’s going to be better. I know it is. Definitely.”
Around this time, a reporter with the Omaha World-Leader named Gary Johansen drove out to Walker place in Kansas City. What follows is Johansen’s interview/profile of the resurgent Walker that ran in the April 1975 issue of Basketball Digest. The profile starts out strong, but ends a little too abruptly. I’m guessing the bottom got cut to squeeze the story into its allotted space. Still, it’s a good read about one of the NBA’s more-memorable players of this era.]
Jimmy Walker lives in an unpretentious, look-alike apartment development. Driving out there is easier than finding the proper unit dwelling amid the maze.
“Just look for the Jaguar with two flat tires and take a hard right,” the directions read. Sure enough, Jimmy Walker answer the knock and flashed his wide smile. He looked bigger. At 6-foot-3 and 199, Walker is hardly a giant in his trade, which happens to be playing professional basketball for the Kansas City-Omaha Kings. Still, he looks bigger.
One of those game shows was on TV, and a mood painting of the late Jimi Hendrix dominated the living room. “I enjoy good music,” Walker said. “I got that painting of Hendrix in Mexico; don’t know the painter. Jimi died of an overdose of barbiturates. He was a great rock star.”
The phone rang a couple of times, and there was a knock on the door. The caller wanted to know what time Walker would be free, and the other guy asked if Walker knew that someone had punctured his tires.
“No, no,” he said, “the tire job was mine. Went around the corner a little fast last night. Thanks for telling me, anyway.”
Walker settled into a comfortable couch. He was dressed in a pair of slacks and a terry-cloth robe. The medallion around his neck was intriguing. “That’s not a medallion. It’s a 20-dollar gold piece. Collecting them is one of my hobbies. Guess I have five or six. Now I’m in the market for a 50-dollar gold piece.”
Walker has only six coins in his collection, but they range in value from $400 up. The one around his neck, which he wears constantly, is a 1924 model valued at $750, counting the gold chain,
“A friend in Detroit who runs a wholesale jewelry place talked me into putting 32 diamonds around a 1907 gold piece, and it’s valued at $1,600. I don’t wear that one.”
It was hard to imagine Walker, sitting relaxed and at ease in his home, pounding up and down a hardwood floor shooting baskets for the Kings. He joined Kansas City-Omaha last year in a trade with Houston for Matt Guokas when superstar guard Nate Archibald was injured (an Achilles tendon injury). “The Walk,” who eats a bag of popcorn before every game, arrived with the reputation of a superstar who occasionally went into a super snooze. Walker’s answer to that was, “Not all of the raps against me have been bad raps.”
Down the stretch, when the Kings played their best ball of 1973-74, Walker assumed the role of leader and averaged 19 points a game. In the last 16 games, when by reputation he should have been taking a holiday, his averages read: 23 points, four assists, and three rebounds.
This year, with both Archibald and Walker healthy, Kaycee-O has two of the best “little men” in the National Basketball Association on the floor at the same time. “Getting traded to the Kings from Houston was the best thing that happened,” Walker said. “The atmosphere there wasn’t good for basketball. Don’t know why. Maybe it’s a negative city or the attitude of the fans. Football is on everyone’s mind. Every time I had a basket, I felt they were cheering for a touchdown.”
Walker had reported late to the Rockets after a contract dispute and wasn’t playing well or long. His three points a game was far below his NBA six-year average of 16.5. Kansas City-Omaha had to be an improvement.
“Here, the fans are positive; the people are warm to Jimmy Walker the person as well as Jimmy Walker the player. The only thing I dislike is the cold weather. When it gets real bad, I stay in my house or get in the hotel on the road (in Omaha).”
Walker has respect for Coach Phil Johnson’s disciplined style of basketball and his theories on team defense. “All the players in the NBA are tough on offense and, on a given night, can destroy you. But pro basketball separates the winners from the losers by the factor of team defense. You have to work on it—which way you guard a certain guy, how you operate in given situations, positioning, just a great number of things.”
Jimmy Walker was born and reared in Roxbury, Massachusetts in an inter-city area that wasn’t conducive to playing basketball or going to college, the two things he wanted to do by the time he was a high school sophomore. “Sam Jones of the Boston Celtics got me transferred to Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina, where I could concentrate on my game and my studies.
“My parents didn’t have much money, but we weren’t poor. My mother put her heart and soul into providing for me. If I had three pairs of pants, they were always clean. She worked in a laundry until my junior year in college. I was an only child, and my mother spoiled me rotten.”
Walker went to Providence College in Rhode Island, only 36 miles from his hometown. Providence is a major college basketball power, and all five starters were drafted by the pros when Walker was a senior. Walker’s 30.4 scoring average led the nation in 1966-67.
Drafted in the first round by the Detroit Pistons, Walker was a starter from the opening gun. He combined speed with change-of-pace dribbling ability to complement his shooting and defense. “I’m glad I had a chance to play with the Pistons and the Rockets, but I feel Kansas City-Omaha offers more possibilities. We’re relatively young and improving all the time. We’ve got the potential to be big winners. The Kings have given me a great honor by naming me their player representative.”
“The [NBA players] association meets a couple of times a year, and once we held a gathering in Monica on the French Riviera. Walt Bellamy and I decided to get some seafood, which I loved, and found this nice spot on a hill.
“We both ordered lobster, figuring it would be $15 or $20. Later, we were sipping wine and patting our stomachs when the waiter brought the check. “The bill for the two of us was $146. I’ll never forget it. Each lobster sold for a cool $55. It seems that the area water was foul, and they had to import their seafood.”
At 30, Walker feels he’s in his basketball prime. “When I slow down, I’ll know it. Then I’ll quit.”
Right now, he’s an important part of the Kansas City-Omaha Kings team. He’s the guy who makes things happen—Jimmy Walker.
[Walker spent two more seasons in K.C. In 1974-75, he looked sharp, teaming with a healthy Nate Archibald to lead the Kings into the postseason. “I don’t have any regrets,” beamed Walker after the Kings’ short playoff run, which he had gone out on a limb earlier in the season to predict. “This is the first season I’ve really enjoyed.”
The next season, 1975-76, Walker nearly missed training camp in a contract squabble (“I’ve never had any trouble like this before. It kind of shakes you up.”), then played sluggishly for a long stretch of the season (so did the Kings). But Walker’s generous two-year deal was too much for the Kings’ stingy front-office brass to bear. The following season before the start of training camp, the Kings waived the 32-year-old Walker to jettison his $200,000 salary. “It’s a problem you run into in these days of high salaries,” said Kings’ coach Phil Johnson, “You’ve got to analyze it. It comes down to how much he can do for X number of dollars.”
But Dick Mackey, the Kansas City Star’s outstanding NBA reporter, lamented the move. He called the trade that brought Walker to K.C. the franchise’s “best,” noting “in his three years here, he probably won more games with clutch shots than any other player.”]