James "Jimmy" Walker (April 8 1944 – July 2 2007) was an American professional Basketball player. A 6'3" (1.90 m) guard, he played nine seasons (1967–1976) in the NBA as a member of the Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets, and Kansas City Kings. Walker was a two-time All-Star who scored 11,655 points in his career. He was also the father of former NBA player Jalen Rose, Walker died on July 2, 2007, at the age of 63, from complications related to lung cancer.
Walker played basketball on the streets of Boston's Roxbury neighborhood. He starred at Boston Trade High School, and was noticed in the schoolyards by Celtics' star Sam Jones. Jones took an interest in the 6'3" teenager, and steered the average student to his own alma mater, Laurinburg Institute, a Black preparatory school in North Carolina once attended by Dizzy Gillespie. At Laurinburg, Walker improved his grades. It was when his cousin was being recruited by Providence College, that he told then-Coach Joe Mullaney, "You should see my cousin Jimmy".
At Providence, Walker's game (much as that of Michigan star Cazzie Russell) was compared to that of the premier player of the era, Cincinnati Royals superstar Oscar Robertson. Walker averaged 23 points as a junior, and led the nation with 30 a game as a senior. His high point total of 50 came vs. Coach Bob Cousy's Boston College Eagles men's basketball team, and he was named MVP of the prestigious Holiday Festival Tournament in Madison Square Garden. He was also one of the first college players to use the between-the-legs dribble.
The Friars were ranked number three in the nation in Walker's sophomore year and despite suffering a 40-point blowout by Princeton in the Eastern Regional Finals, cursed by a horrid shooting performance and 41 points from Bill Bradley, a national championship seemed quite possible for the following season. The Friars were returning all five starters, including Bob Spencer and future NBA All-Star Mike Riordan. But then the hoop gods turned away from Providence, when they lost Dexter Westbrook. The promising 6-foot-7 sophomore from the Big Apple was the team's starting center. He was a versatile and athletic talent, but the tough academic standards proved to be his downfall. He was forced out of school, and the Friars' chance at a title vanished.
Walker led the nation in scoring in his senior year, averaging 30 points a game, without the benefit of a three-point line. Walker's 2,000-plus points led Providence for four decades, until his all-time scoring record was broken in 2005 by Ryan Gomes. However Walker was able to accomplish this in only three seasons, since the freshman rule had not been in effect.
Walker was selected number one overall in the 1967 NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons, the first year the NBA had abandoned its territorial draft (under the old draft, which granted an extra first round pick to be used on collegians within 100 miles of their professional team, Walker might have been selected by the Celtics and teamed with his mentor Sam Jones). He was also the final pick in the 1967 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints (the pick now known as Mr. Irrelevant), despite never having played College football.
Many believe, though Walker played in two NBA All-Star games, that he never reached his full potential as a pro, partly due to his weight gain. His game had been predicated on quickness. Nonetheless, he averaged 20.8 ppg. in 1969-70, 21.3 in 1971-72, 19.8 in 1973-74, and averaged almost 17 per game over a nine-year career. The numbers are all the more impressive when one considers that Walker teamed with star guards such as Dave Bing in Detroit, and Nate Archibald in Kansas City-Omaha.
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