The excitement. The anxiety. The pressure. The nerves. The expectations.
Everything Kemba Walker is going through right now as the hometown hero returning to play point guard for the Knicks, Mark Jackson lived through three decades ago.
“Just the bright lights of New York City and everything that comes with it,” Jackson, now an ESPN analyst, told The Post on Friday. “You have to be prepared and ready to handle it, and I believe he certainly is.”
Following Jackson’s standout career at St. John’s, the Knicks selected the Brooklyn native and Bishop Loughlin alum 18th overall in the 1987 NBA Draft. The 1988 NBA Rookie of the year, he spent the first five years of his career with the Knicks, reaching the playoffs all five seasons, and making one All-Star Game.
There were challenges while learning how to be a professional in the city he grew up in. There were many potential distractions, the chance for missteps at every turn, nonstop ticket requests from distant cousins, old friends and hangers-on.
In that way, Walker has a head start on Jackson. The Bronx native has been in the league 10 seasons and reached four All-Star games. He isn’t entering this without an understanding of what to expect. Walker even admitted recently he wouldn’t have been able to handle the Knicks and New York City earlier in his career.
“It’ll be easier for him,” Jackson said. “He’s going there as a veteran as opposed to fresh out of college. … I’m looking forward to great things from him.”
Walker’s debut as a Knick was somewhat uneven. He committed two costly turnovers late in regulation and was pulled following the first overtime, as it was clear he was running out of gas. But he hit three 3-pointers in four attempts, notched 10 points, eight rebounds and three assists and logged 36 minutes, looking perfectly healthy. Jackson saw plenty of positives, enough evidence that Walker hasn’t lost much as long as his problematic knees can hold up.
“There’s no question about his talent and his ability. If he’s healthy, he’s going to be an impactful, big-time talent for the Knicks,” said Jackson, who will be inducted into the St. John’s Hall of Fame on Saturday night. “There’s no question about his leadership, the way he goes about doing his job every day in practice, in games, on the plane, on the bus.
“It’s going to be all about his health. When he’s healthy, he’s a big-time talent.”
Afterward, he admitted to being disappointed in himself for some of his mistakes, but he was also thrilled that the Knicks prevailed and was in awe of the reception he received. He began the night by flashing an “X,” for his Bronx neighborhood. Of all the Knicks, Walker received the loudest reception during pregame introductions. There was an extra pop for every positive play of his.
Sitting courtside, Jackson said he couldn’t have been happier for Walker, a New Yorker like himself playing on the biggest stage the city can provide.
“You can see the smile, the enthusiasm of putting on that jersey,” Jackson said. “Everybody that’s ever been around him raves about the person he is, so I’m happy for him and he deserves this moment.
“It was great, especially coming from my eyes, because I lived it. Only thing I tell him is enjoy it, embrace it, because it goes by quickly. Celebrate it and have a blast while you’re doing it.”
Christine founded Sports Grind Entertainment with an aim to bring relevant and unaltered Sports news to the general public with a specific view point for each story catered by the team. She is a proficient journalist who holds a reputable portfolio with proficiency in content analysis and research.