CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Kemba Walker keeps proving people wrong.
It's just what he does.
When folks questioned whether the 6-foot-1 Walker was too small to become an elite NBA point guard after Charlotte selected him with the ninth pick in the 2011 NBA draft, he pushed himself to beat out D.J. Augustin as the starter.
When doubters questioned the Hornets giving him a four-year, $48 million contract in 2015, all he did was become a two-time All-Star.
On Wednesday night, he took another step in his impressive, if not unlikely career, passing Dell Curry to become the franchise's career scoring leader with 9,841 points.
"It's super special because of all of the doubt I've gotten throughout my career and all of the criticism, but I just continue to prove them wrong," Walker said.
The emotions boiled over for Walker after he made a reverse layup with 20 seconds left in a 118-105 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers to break the record Curry held for 26 years.
LeBron James was having one of those nights, scoring 41 points - so the outcome was already decided.
But few in the packed house had left the Spectrum Center because they wanted to see Walker - by far the city's most popular NBA player of the past decade - break the record. Once again, Walker did not disappoint, overcoming a sluggish three quarters to come alive late and finish with 21 points. Walker said he wanted to break the mark at home, rather than on the road at Washington this weekend.
Curry, a broadcaster for the Hornets and a huge Walker fan, looked down from his seat well above the court with a big, proud smile on his face.
James walked over to Walker as time expired and gave him a huge hug, whispering in his ear what an amazing accomplishment he had achieved.
Moments later Walker was being interviewed on the court and broke down, grabbing a towel to wipe away the growing tears streaming down his face.
"It was just pretty emotional," Walker said. "I really wish I would have played better earlier and we would have had a more competitive game but it's still a huge accomplishment. For my family to be here and all the fans cheering me on like that, especially because we lost, they made it pretty special anyway."
James said Walker has a ton of respect around the league, although his Charlotte teams have struggled to consistently make the NBA playoffs and will likely miss out again this year.
"Listen, if you can be the all-time leading scorer in any franchise, that's incredible," James said. "That's an incredible feat. I definitely went over and just told him how incredible that was. Even though with the season that they're having, when accomplishments happen throughout the season, you try not to take them for granted. I think it's an incredible feat for him."
Hornets owner Michael Jordan wasn't at the game, but weighed in with a statement released through the team.
"I'm really happy for Kemba," Jordan said. "Becoming a franchise's all-time leading scorer is a big accomplishment and it's a testament to his hard work, dedication and passion for the game of basketball. He exemplifies what it means to be a Hornet. His effort, leadership and commitment to our team and the City of Charlotte is second to none. I'm proud to have him on our team."
For Walker, this was about the gratification of overcoming doubters.
"I proved them wrong again," Walker said. "That's what I'm about. I'm about working, getting better and proving people wrong. Like I said, I'm not supposed to be here. This is an unbelievable accomplishment and I'm so excited that I was able to do it tonight at home."
Teammate Marvin Williams said Walker plays harder than anyone he's seen in a Hornets uniform.
Few would disagree.
The 27-year-old Walker said that is because he's never forgotten where he came from and what he went through to get to became a national champion at UConn and to get to where he is now.
"I'm from a rough place, the Bronx," Walker said. "Not a lot of people make it this far, especially as a professional athlete. I definitely know a lot of guys that played in the league that came from the Bronx but not a lot of them are a franchise all-time leading scorer. It's special and I take pride in that. I put on every single day and night for my city. My city loves me to death. I love where I'm from because if it wasn't for where I'm from, I wouldn't be the person I am today."
Hornets owner Michael Jordan probably wishes he had a few more players like Kemba Walker. Perhaps then his team might be a regular NBA playoff contender.
The hard work. The passion. The dedication.
They are all qualities that Jordan said Walker possesses and led the point guard to become the franchise's career scoring leader on Wednesday night.
"He exemplifies what it means to be a Hornet," Jordan said in a statement.
Walker scored 21 points to pass Dell Curry with 9,841 points on a night LeBron James scored 41 points to help the Cavaliers cruise to a 118-105 win over Charlotte.
Walker may not be as tall or possess the same leaping ability as Jordan, a six-time NBA champion, but he does play with the same all-out intensity and desire to win that His Airness did when he was winning titles for the Chicago Bulls.
The problem is Walker just doesn't have nearly the supporting cast that Jordan did in his heyday.
The Hornets are on the verge of failing to make the playoffs for the fifth time in seven seasons since Walker arrived in 2011. It's hardly his fault, as he's developed into a two-time All-Star and a dominant scorer who's averaging better than 20 points per game the last three seasons while improving his shooting percentage each year.
"His effort, leadership and commitment to our team and the City of Charlotte is second to none," Jordan said.
Walker's hard work has not gone unnoticed.
James - who tied Jordan's record by scoring in double figures for the 866th consecutive game - said Walker has earned the respect of players around the league, even though the Hornets haven't been a consistent playoff contender.
"Listen, if you can be the all-time leading scorer in any franchise, that's incredible," James said. "That's an incredible feat. I definitely went over and just told him how incredible that was. Even though with the season that they're having, when accomplishments happen throughout the season, you try not to take them for granted."
Walker was emotional after the game, needing a towel to wipe away tears after he was interviewed on the court in front of an applauding crowd at the Spectrum Center - a rare deviation from the impenetrable New York City toughness he always displays on the court.
But after retreating to the locker room, Walker sat at his locker with his head down while still upset over the loss.
"That's one thing that has allowed him to become the great player that he is," Hornets coach Steve Clifford said of Walker's distaste for losing.
Clifford said it would be hard to find a player who has improved as much as Walker over the past three seasons.
"He's a great story," Clifford said.
Walker became emotional because he started to remember what all of the doubters said along the way. He said that he "wasn't supposed to be here."
"There were doubts when I got drafted," Walker said. "I've seen plenty of articles and things like that I probably wouldn't be an elite point guard. I wanted to prove people wrong. And when I got my first contract, they said I was overpaid. I proved them wrong again. That's what I'm about. I'm about working, getting better and proving people wrong."
Given the changing landscape of the NBA, the four-year, $48 million contract Walker received in 2015 now looks like an incredible bargain. If he continues to play at this level - and there is no reason to suspect he won't - he could receive a max contract following the 2018-19 season.
Walker said he would like to stay in Charlotte, but he noted that also wants to win.
The Hornets have lost in the first round of the playoffs in Walker's previous two postseason appearances, and the man who won a national championship in college at Connecticut is growing tired of watching the playoffs on television.
The big question will be if Jordan decides the Hornets need to blow things up and use Walker as a bargaining chip in trade talks, or whether the team should continue to try to build around the 27-year-old point guard.
Jordan created a stir earlier this year by saying he would trade Walker at the right price, but then held onto him instead of sending him to Cleveland or elsewhere.
"I've always been committed to this place," Walker said. "This is where I got my start. This is where I've grown as a man, as a person and as a basketball player. I don't think it will be up to me. We'll see."
Statement from Michael Jordan:
"I'm really happy for Kemba. Becoming a franchise's all-time leading scorer is a big accomplishment and it's a testament to his hard work, dedication and passion for the game of basketball. He exemplifies what it means to be a Hornet. His effort, leadership and commitment to our team and the City of Charlotte is second to none. I'm proud to have him on our team. Congratulations, Kemba!"
Read more top trending stories on wsoctv.com:
© 2020 Associated Press