Walker Recalls Pickup Games With Jordan

Michael Jordan would draft players to his team who weren't going to shoot much.

McNeil & Parkins Show
May 19, 2020 - 4:19 pm
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(670 The Score) In the NBA's offseason of 2001, then-Celtics forward and Chicago native Antoine Walker received an unexpected phone call from retired superstar Michael Jordan.

"He called me," Walker said on the McNeil & Parkins Show on Tuesday. "And he was like, 'Hey, I'm thinking about making a comeback. I need you in the gym with me.'"

With the help of Walker and personal trainer Tim Grover, Jordan wanted to begin working toward a return to basketball. It began as just the three of them, Walker said, until 2 p.m. each day, when pickup games would take place.

The games included a number of NBA veterans, with Jordan joining Walker, Michael Finley, Juwan Howard, Quentin Richardson, Corey Maggette, Bobby Simmons, Tim Hardaway and many more. A 16-year-old named LeBron James even joined in the action.

"We treated LeBron like a 16-year-old," Walker said.

As part of drafting his teams for pickup games, Jordan selected players who weren't going to shoot near his volume.

"He's going to pick Charles Oakley first," Walker said. "He's always going to pick Oaks. And he's going to pick a really good point guard. That's one thing that always stood out. And then he likes to get less aggressive guys. Like, he'll take a Bobby Simmons, the guys that aren't really looking to score the basketball, so he can work on his game. 

"Michael likes to get his shots up now. He's going to make sure he's working on his game. So, that's how Michael was."

One aspect of Jordan's pickup games that remained sharp from his playing days was his ability to talk trash. Walker heard plenty of it as they competed.

"Very competitive," Walker said. "All we talked about every day was winning. He used to give me so much stuff about not winning a championship.

"If you weren't a winner, he had little respect for you."

Jordan indeed returned to the NBA in 2001 as a member of the Wizards. He averaged 21.2 points per game over two seasons before retiring for a third time.