By Scoop Jackson
Page 2

He sat there, feet bare, on a training table with no trainer in sight. He had a magazine in his hand. Might as well read, right? No one said anything to him; he said nothing to nobody. Then he got up and walked away.

Game preparation.

What else was Antoine Walker supposed to do?

It was two hours before the second-biggest game of his life. The first one he already has a ring for -- the 1998 NCAA championship. Still, the most misdiagnosed, misunderstood, misloved player on the Miami Heat roster was in a place no other player on either squad could comprehend.

I mention a name to him. He laughs when he hears it.

"James Worthy," I say to him. "You know you're like the James Worthy of this situation."

He gets it, but doesn't want to hear it right now. Doesn't need to.

But the heat will be on Antoine Walker to be like James Worthy. To be that player who will make the difference in this series. Be the reason.

Bigger than Shaq and D-Wade.

What else is he supposed to do?


Walker has had to deal with a lot of hate in his career. But at what point do you listen? At what point do you know when the complaints are legitimate?

In the anatomy of Antoine Walker, just like the magazine he had in his hands before the game, he's read all the bad stories.

The ones calling him a malcontent, selfish, arrogant, spoiled, selfish defenseless, attitudinal, chemistry killer, selfish. The ones that have described his shot selection in words that make "questionable" feel like a sense of pride.

They've booed him in Miami at times this season, fans have cursed him through television screens and car radios, lifetime Heat fans have shook their heads and pulled their hair out at the same time. All because of the decisions he's made on the court. All because they thought he had come to Ocean Drive to give the team one final ingredient.

So when you Antoine Walker -- the self-proclaimed "best player ever" outta Chicago (he did rule the Chicago Pro-Am and summer league for eight years against any and all pros, former pros, non-pros, college greats and street legends who came through the city during that period, including one summer when he averaged 50 a game) -- and you are on the cusp of Game 1 of your first NBA Finals do you read the bad stories … or do you just set out to prove everyone wrong?

When asked, "Do you feel any pressure now that you're in the Finals to prove wrong the people who have been throwing jabs at you, saying this that and the other about your game?" the guy who was Kato to Paul Pierce's Green Hornet in Boston for five years said, "Man, this is a big stage, this is what you want to play for. But I'm in a different role now. I just want to be solid. Play solid ball. Just come out and be as solid as possible on the court. Whether it's scoring, rebounding, or just feeding off our two guys. I still have to do other things on the court, use my versitility to the best of my ability."

He paused for a second, maybe to counter-jab ... "You know, I don't get 15-20 attempts a game anymore. So when I get my 10-11 shots I just gotta make sure that I make 'em count."

He's been put here to be James Worthy.

In Pat Riley's master plan of re-creation for the Heat he needed a Worthy in his lineup to repeat the L.A. history he came back to coach.

In Shaq he had his Kareem. In Wade he had his Magic. All he needed was his Big Game. A third All-Star (or Hall of Famer in Worthy's case) option in his offense that would make it damn near impossible for teams to beat the Heat in June.

Riley may not get the points and lane-filling from Walker that he got from Worthy, but he gets a player who handles the ball, spreads the defense and passes effectively into Shaq. He gets the third-best player on a team that has the best tandem in the league.

That's the pressure that Walker carries with him. Carried it all season. Even when Riles put him in the starting lineup only 19 times during the first 82 games -- but every game after that. Now he can either make Riley look like a mad genius or a GM gone mad.

Walker has sacrificed scoring -- he averaged 12.2 per game this season after scoring as high as 23.4 while with the Celtics -- something most fans don't understand because they choose not to. Again, blinded by the shot selection. The gift of his curse.

"I still have to do other things on the court," Walker said before the game. "I have to give a lot of effort and energy, try to defend, rebound and make plays. You know sometimes it's not all about scoring; it's about making plays."

In the third quarter he made three plays that helped keep the Heat in the game. Two were assists: one on a break to Wade and one in the post to O'Neal, cutting Dallas' lead from 64-59 to 64-63 with 2:07 left. The other was a play, right before D-Wade's poster shot over Eric Dampier, when 'Toine put "someone" in a white uniform into the blender and did what TD Jakes does: took 'em to church.

And very subtly, his contributions -- overlooked by everyone -- were the reason the Heat led 63-62 at the end of the third quarter.

They were his Worthy moments.

In the end, they weren't enough. Worthless. His 17/6/4 was eclipsed by the 7-for-19 shooting and six turnovers that also filled his stat line, blocking even the intangibles that he brought to the game.

He can't escape the criticism.

"He's going to shoot them out of the series," a Dallas fan said after Walker missed a 3. It was his third miss of the night (he would shoot 3-for-9 on 3-pointers).

Yet David Aldridge still holds on to the theory that, "(Antoine) takes good shots, he just misses them." Or as someone else said during the game, "He doesn't miss good shots, he rushes bad ones."

But anyone looking at Antoine Walker and expecting him to help the Heat win a ring with his shooting percentage or decision-making doesn't get the picture because the weapons are already drawn. Hate. Even though bad shots have come to depict Walker, they are not the entire depiction of his game.

We only happen to think they are.


At the end of two quarters a glimpse into his life was exposed.

We were all able to get the picture. Draw a different conclusion.

At the end of the first quarter with 1.6 second left, he dropped a 28-foot bomb on Dallas; then at the end of the second with 0.4 seconds left, after playing perfect defense on Dirk, he dropped a 24-foot bomb on him.

His gift, his curse.

His situation.

He knows the Heat won't win this series without him playing like Worthy did when he was the Finals MVP in 1988. Not that Walker has to put up 25 ppg while hitting 55 percent from the floor, but he has to release the pressure off Wade and Shaq by doing what he do.

Not doing what he don't.

He has to reach deep into himself -- the night that his boy, former UK teammate Nazr Mohammed, got his championship ring last year with the Spurs; or just the other day when he could have looked inside Sports Illustrated to find that his matchup with Mavericks' sometime starter Adrian Griffin was called a toss-up; or looked inside USA Today and saw it chose Josh Howard over Walker in the advantage column.

He has to find a way to use those events and hatred those hold toward him to prove the world wrong and prove Pat Riley right.

He left the Game 1 loss secure in thought. Having one person yell at him as he left the locker room, "The best-dressed contest for the Finals is officially over!"

Antoine's fresh-to-autopsy like that.

Like D-Wade -- who made a very similar comment before Antoine said the same thing -- Walker knows that even though Dirk had a bad game, the Heat had a worse one.

Which was the difference in the end. The reason Miami is down 0-1.

"We have to shoot better from the line," Walker said. "And I have to stop making those turnovers."

His way of reading the bad stories?

"I'm going to watch a lot of the film, find out."

He took the last sip of the Diet Coke clinched in his left hand. With a look in his eyes that already had Game 1 behind him.

He knows the series hinges on him. As he Elvises the building he's already in Game 2 preparation.

"You gonna pull that James Worthy off?" I ask him.

"If they play me Sunday like they did tonight," 'Toine responds without a Coke and a smile, "Yep."

What else is he supposed to say?

Scoop Jackson is a national columnist for Page 2 and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. He has a weekly segment on "Cold Pizza" and is a regular forum guest on "Rome Is Burning." He resides in Chicago. Sound off to Scoop and Page 2 here.




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