This piece is completely impromptu, so hopefully it turns out well!
A month before I joined this awesome website, I wrote an article on my Medium blog explaining why the Hornets cannot lose Kemba Walker. In short, the article focuses on the importance of small market teams keeping their franchise player due to what they mean to the organization, fans, and community. Especially since I lived through two LeBron departures from my city. During the time it was published the ball club was 19-21 and the eighth seed in the East. Fast-forward to last night where the Hornets are 39-42 and the ninth seed in the East still fighting for a playoff spot.
As the Hornets braced themselves for their final playoff push I looked ahead at the schedule. “04/09/19 @ CLE,” it read. I had to go. There’s no fancy way to put it. I. Had. To. Go.
I had to go see the team I adopted before the season. I had to go see the young core that I’ve been begging the coaching staff to unleash all year. I had to see the man eating up $23 million of our salary cap, Nic Batum. I had to see Frank Kaminsky for the good and the bad. I had to see Malik Monk and his streaky ways. I had to see this team vying for the final playoff spot. I had to see the team I had invested so much time and energy into. And I had to see Kemba Walker, for maybe the final time as a member of this franchise. [Side note: I think I’ve never seen Charlotte play in person before this game. Which is saying something because I had a stretch of seasons where I went to 10+ Cavs games a year.]
I called up my plug (weird flex but ok) and got the hook up for the game. We were in business. As I was getting to my seat I heard in a dull voice over the PA system, “starting for the Charlotte Hornets from Connecticut, number 15, Kemba Walker.” I might have been the only person in the venue cheering. That’s when it sunk in that I was watching my favorite team firsthand.
The ball was jumped and the Hornets opened the game out hot. Dwayne Bacon, who I have been high on since his senior year of high school, hit three triples. The team as a whole opened the game shooting 82% from the three point line in route to demolishing the Cavaliers.
I’ve been to over 100 NBA games which include the playoffs and Finals, and I don’t think I’ve ever been that excited during a game. I was a kid in a candy store. It was the stakes of the game being a must-win to keep the playoff hopes alive. It was the fact that I can’t see the Hornets play in person if only twice a year. It was, “Hey, look! We got the GOOD Hornets showing up tonight,” where everyone contributed. And it was the voice in the back of my head knowing that this could be Kemba Walker’s second-to-last game with Charlotte.
As this game was going on, the Miami Heat were taking on the Philadelphia 76ers in Dwyane Wade’s last game in Miami. Earlier that day I texted Giancarlo Navas of Miami Heat Beat who was attending that game,
“Just enjoy it and soak it all in. I was at LeBron’s last game here last year and that’s kind of all you can do. Just enjoy the moment and the atmosphere because there will be NOTHING like it again.”
While LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Kemba Walker are worlds a part, and this [Charlotte] game was on the road compared to at home, I actually believe I subconsciously sent that message to talk to myself about what the future could hold with Walker. In my brief year of fandom I quickly grew to understand how phenomenal Kemba Walker is and his impact across Charlotte. This was the biggest reason I needed to attend this game, because I would not have been able to live with myself if I never saw “the Captain” play in person as a member of this franchise. Going to that game was about respecting the player who I fell in love with over an eighty game period. My eyes were glued to him when he was on the floor. I’ve been through this twice already. It doesn’t get easier, but you learn how to handle it the best you can.
The Charlotte Hornets have one game left of the regular season. Memphis blowing a twenty-point lead to Detroit last night certainly didn’t help the bees’ playoff chances. Wednesday’s home matchup against the Orlando Magic (on ESPN, nonetheless) could very well be Kemba Walker’s last game in purple and teal. Enjoy it, embrace it, cheer, and cry, because he might be representing Charlotte one final time.
Yup. Definitely got emotional towards the latter half of this.