Most wage earners are fortunate to make $1 million over their careers. Kemba Walker makes $12 million per season.
At that salary Walker, the Charlotte Hornets’ point guard, can put up with some hassles inherent to his job. One thing that’s unique about a major-league athlete’s job is the employment contract he signs can be traded to another franchise in that league.
Thursday at 3 p.m. EST, the Hornets’ option to trade Walker elsewhere this season expired under the NBA’s annual trade deadline. He wants to stay in Charlotte. He isn’t looking to dump his team and his adopted city for a bigger market or another roster.
He wants to be part of the solution, just as he was in leading Connecticut to the national championship in 2011. That’s a guy the Hornets are lucky to have, going far beyond his ability to score 40 points, as he did in Thursday night’s overtime loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Walker learned the past few weeks that you can love your job, but your job won’t love you back. It was telling, when I asked him Thursday about the All-Star Game coming to Charlotte in 2019, that he said it would be great to represent Charlotte “if” he’s still a Hornet then.
Walker now knows more acutely than he did before not to assume the Hornets will always value his services.
The deadline passed without the Hornets hearing a trade proposal that would check all the boxes that would justify dealing Walker. By owner Michael Jordan’s description to the Observer, the Hornets would have had to get another All-Star quality player. No doubt, a team wanting Walker would also have had to help fix the Hornets’ bloated player payroll next season.
It was unlikely a trade so appealing to the Hornets would materialize. But they did search for a trade. That becoming public will always make Walker’s relationship with the Hornets a bit different from now on.
Now, it’s a business as much as it is an emotional bond. Good as Walker has been, becoming a back-to-back All-Star, he was reminded he’s still the help.
An exceptionally talented part of the help: In scoring those 40 points, Walker made half his 26 shots from the field, six of his 11 3-pointers, and all eight of his free throws.
When you look at how four-time MVP LeBron James views his career as an independent contractor, switching from Cleveland to Miami and back to Cleveland, the Hornets are lucky Walker has demonstrated such intense loyalty to the team that drafted him.
There’s nothing wrong with James moving around to wherever he has the best chance to win another championship. But there’s something cool about Walker’s throwback approach, that he’d like to stick around to make the Hornets more relevant in the NBA.
He’s building a dream house in Charlotte, a place he’s grown to love. He’s been willing to stake his career on continuing to be a fixture here.
I hope the Hornets appreciate that loyalty in an “I got mine” pro-sports culture. He’d be a lot harder to replace than he would be to keep happy.