CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Kemba Walker says he holds no ill feelings toward Michael Jordan, even though the Hornets owner and six-time NBA champion decided not to keep him in Charlotte by paying him a $221 million supermax contract.
In fact, Walker only has love for Jordan.
"MJ is always going to be a special guy in my life," Walker said Thursday night after his return to Charlotte as a member of the Boston Celtics. "He's one of the reasons I am where I am today."
Jordan drafted Walker with the ninth pick in the 2011 NBA draft, and Walker took it from there. He beat out DJ Augustin for the starting point guard spot and flourished into a three-time All-Star despite being undersized - he's listed at 6-foot - for his position.
Along the way, he became tight with Jordan, and the two still talk regularly. Although Walker said they didn't have a chance to catch up Thursday, he said he feels like he can talk with Jordan anytime.
"He gave me the opportunity to flourish as a basketball player," Walker said. "He gave me the opportunity to grow as a man in this community. So, MJ definitely has a special place in my heart for sure."
Walker scored 14 points and had six assists as the Celtics beat the Hornets for their sixth straight win.
Walker's mother, who still lives in Charlotte, was in the stands.
It was an emotional night for Walker.
The Hornets showed a highlight video of Walker during pre-game introductions, which brought tears to his eyes.
After that, the crowd gave Walker a loud, one-minute standing ovation.
"It was amazing," Walker said after the game . "Just a great feeling to know that they still have love for me even though I left. But you know, to be back and to get the reception I got was really cool."
It was clear Walker was missed.
His longtime friend Cody Zeller honored him with a pair of sneakers that had the Charlotte skyline graphic reading "We Miss You Kemba." Walker said he misses Zeller and some of the young players he was mentoring on the team like Devonte Graham, Dwayne Bacon and Miles Bridges.
He joked that Graham has stolen some of his moves.
"For sure! Definitely stole some of them. Definitely," Graham said with a laugh. "When you've got a great guy like that, great point guard in this league you watch him, got to watch him the whole year so I definitely take some of his stuff from him."
As he peered up at the videoboard suspended above the court, Kemba Walker broke into a wide smile and tears trickled down his cheeks.
The Hornets honored their all-time leading scorer with a highlight video Thursday night, giving the Boston Celtics point guard a hero's welcome in his return to Charlotte. As the tribute ended, the crowd erupted with a loud, one-minute standing ovation.
"It was special," Walker said. "Just to be back here and the amount of love I have been getting today and leading up to this day. The video just topped it off. It made me really emotional. I was trying to hold it in, but I couldn't. I knew I wasn't going to be able to."
Jayson Tatum scored 23 points, and Walker got what he ultimately wanted - a victory - in his homecoming game as the Celtics soundly defeated the Charlotte Hornets, 108-87.
It was an underwhelming performance by Walker's standards.
The three-time All-Star who once scored 60 points on this court was held to 14 on 4-of-12 shooting, and didn't make his first field goal until three minutes into the third quarter.
Walker said the video didn't impact his play on the court, but coach Brad Stevens believed it contributed.
"Yeah, it's really hard," Stevens said. "He had the right idea coming into the game but you knew right after they played that video, that probably was going to be a tough start. That was really cool and a great tribute by the Hornets. I know how much he appreciated it."
Walked played eight seasons in Charlotte before signing with the Celtics after Hornets owner Michael Jordan elected not to give Walker a five-year, $221 million supermax contract.
But he left on good terms with the organization and its fans. After the game, Walker stayed on the court hugging members of the organization, including some of the ushers.
"It's always great to see Kemba," Hornets coach James Borrego said. "I love that guy. He has a great spirit. He's a great competitor and a wonderful person. I think it was a good night for him and for all of us. Both teams have moved on, but it's always good to see him."
Gordon Hayward added 20 points and 10 rebounds for the Celtics, who scored 17 points off 21 Charlotte turnovers.
Miles Bridges had 18 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Hornets, who had their three-game win streak snapped. Charlotte was just 6 of 31 from 3-point range.
Celtics: Stevens said center Enes Kanter is improving from a bruised left knee, but isn't quite ready to return.
Hornets: Bridges received a technical after mixing it up with Marcus Smart in the fourth quarter. ... The Hornets had nine blocks.
Smart was upset after picking up his fifth foul and clapped in disgust in the direction of the Celtics bench after a couple of coaches appeared to be yelling at him on the court.
Stevens said Smart's actions didn't bother him at all.
"This is the part about Marcus that I love - his fire, his competitiveness," Stevens said. "If there's a moment when he's upset with us, that's all part of it, we move on pretty quickly. We've been together a long time and I've been yelled at before and that's OK. I love him and I trust him and he'll get every opportunity."
Terry Rozier, signed by the Hornets to replace Walker, was hoping for a big game against his former team but struggled all night and was held to three points after shooting 1 of 11 from the field.
"He tried to play the right way but shots weren't falling," Borrego said. "He competed tonight and he just has to stick with it. It's an emotional game. It's always an interesting game. I think Kemba felt the same way in the first half. I think Kemba was 0 for 6 in the first half and I think Terry was 0 for 6."
Celtics rookie Grant Williams grew up about six minutes from the Spectrum Center - and reminded his teammates of that on the way into Charlotte.
"When we were on the bus I was annoying because I was calling out interstates and talking about buildings like I'm a tour guide and everyone was telling me to shut up because it was 1 a.m.," Williams said with a laugh.
Celtics: Boston takes its six-game win streak on the road Saturday to San Antonio.
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