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If this works out, it will be one of the sweetest tales ever to be hatched within the boundaries of the City Game. If this works out, we will look back on this as one of the splendid days in Knicks history, Kemba Walker coming home, coming back to New York, back to the Garden.
We are forever a city of point guards, after all, even those of us whose basketball journeys ended with the JV, or at the Y. We are the city of Bob Cousy and Dicky McGuire, of Tiny Archibald and Lenny Wilkens and Larry Brown, of Kenny Anderson and Kenny Smith, of Pearl Washington and Mark Jackson and Boo Harvey, Rod Strickland and Steph Marbury, Frankie Alagia and David Cain.
Some of them have done wonderful work at the Garden. McGuire’s number 15 hangs in its rafters. Jackson won rookie of the year, making the wonderful New York hoops trip from Bishop Loughlin to St. John’s to the Knicks. Dean (the Dream) Meminger went from Rice to Marquette, where he won the 1970 NIT at the Garden, then landed with the ’73 champion Knicks.
Walker takes that path now. He was a star at Rice, too, and as a junior memorably met up with a senior from Chicago Simeon High in January 2007, fellow named Derrick Rose, in a high school game at the Garden that people who were there still talk about. Across five unforgettable nights four years later, he led UConn to five straight wins and the Big East Tournament title, then won six more in the NCAA, one of the great college basketball stories ever told. He became an All-Star in Charlotte, and in Boston.
And he comes home now. He is 31, with close to 25,000 NBA minutes on his treads, coming off an injury-plagued season with the Celtics. But he comes at a reasonable salary number after getting a buyout from Oklahoma City, and he will team with Rose to provide a 1-2 punch at point guard — a yawning chasm for the Knicks in recent years — that will be as long on intrigue and class as it might be long in the tooth.
There are pitfalls and there are pratfalls aplenty standing in the way of this, of course. Can the Knicks get, say, 140 games total out of Walker/Rose, of the max 164? Will Tom Thibodeau be tempted, as we all know he can be, to play them together during the regular season when the moment begs for it, even if their wheels require something else?
We can worry about that later.
For now, we can enjoy the moment, a grand moment of homecoming, a great moment when two of the game’s dynamic point guards will team up for a city of would-be point guards, all of us capable of driving-and-kicking in our dreams, all of us yearning to push the ball up the floor, Bernard on our left and DeBusschere on our right.
Back on Sunday, Jan. 14, 2007, the Garden was unwittingly treated to a preview of this pairing in the old “Super Six” tripleheader. Rose’s Simeon was the 14th-ranked high school team in the country and Memphis-bound Rose lived up to his billing as a surefire 2008 first-rounder by pouring in 22 points, eight of them in an electrifying fourth quarter.
But Walker, a junior, held his own for Rice, the longtime Manhattan power that closed in 2011. He scored 16 points, guarded Rose the whole day, and raised an awful lot of eyebrows.
“I was very excited,” Walker said after Rice’s 53-51 upset was complete that day. “I heard he is the top player in the country and I wanted my chance to prove myself against him. I think I did.”
“We didn’t win,” Rose said, “and I blame me for that.”
Fourteen years later the players have one NCAA title and one-runner-up between them, they have seven All-Star appearances, two All-NBA nods and one MVP trophy between them. And come the fall, they will have the ball in their hands an awful lot as the Knicks try to keep their heads above water in an Eastern Conference that has gotten a lot tougher, and deeper, since the season ended.
There are a lot of things that can go wrong. There is no question about that.
But if most can go right? If Walker and Rose can combine for 55 minutes a game, combine for 150 games, combine to give the Knicks the kind of dynamic two-headed playmaker they haven’t had — dare we say — since Clyde Frazier and Pearl Monroe? Yeah. A city of would-be and wannabe point guards is going to be awfully happy.
And the Knicks are going to be awfully fun.
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