Buffet: On the 'Toine campaign trail
by Peter Schrager
I can't deny it -- I'm a sucker for a good, old-fashioned grassroots campaign.
Howard Dean blazing through America's youth via that wacky thing Al Gore invented called the Internet, the high school slacker knocking off the teacher's pet on class Election Day, even the push from the junior staff for a new coffee machine in the office cafeteria. It's great to see something start with the little guy, and then gradually hit the mainstream.
The latest grassroots campaign taking the nation by storm, however, has nothing whatsoever to do with a \"little guy.\"
No, Antoine Walker's never been confused with David. He's more like Goliath, five years after his last battle, with a spare tire to boot. Recently traded out of Miami for apparently an exorbitant off-season weight gain, Walker's landed in Minnesota -- now playing the role of veteran leader on a team of 20-year-olds and \"He's still in the league?\" guys (Yes, Michael Doleac -- I'm talking to you).
No complaints from 'Toine, though. He's still getting his shots, and he's still hanging out behind in his favorite area -- behind the 3-point line. Averaging just 23 minutes per game, Walker is still putting up close to five 3-point attempts per-game. In his 11th season, after an NBA run that's included numerous 20 point-per-game seasons, a championship ring, and several trips deep into the playoffs -- Walker's now at the tail-end of his career. Playing with a bunch of kids straight out of high school and losing games by the bushel -- Minnesota's become his own personal Boca Raton.
All the more reason to help make him an All-Star.
Yes, the movement to get 'Toine to New Orleans for this February's All-Star Game is already in full swing. Over at AllStarShimmy.com, they're pushing the big fella's cause on overdrive. With vivid first-person passages and eloquent rhetoric, the site's managers lead the bandwagon.
And the locomotive is picking up steam.
Regular Deadspin commenter \"Unsilent Majority\" notes: \"Why Walker? A) He's a funny dude. He exemplifies the average American—lazy, overweight, and working just hard enough to collect his next paycheck, and c) Who doesn't want to see the shimmy in the 2008 All-Star Game?\"
Indeed, Walker is the NBA role player we'd all want to be. There's nothing fun about being a defensive stopper. An out of shape, 3-point shooting big man listed as a guard, though? Where do I sign?
Walker's now the NBA's version of that older dude at the park, the one you have no idea how old he really is, that casually strolls onto the court, lets it fling from everywhere and just straight up shreds your team from the outside. We've all played with Antoine Walker before. He can be found in every town rec center and playground in America. He's hit the game-winning shot on you a hundred times. And every time, you just shake your head in amazement. \"How'd that happen?\"
Chuck Person was that guy in Seattle back in 1999. It was the last year of his career, and he beat the Nets on a game-winning shot that season. But this wasn't the Reggie Miller/Rik Smits Pacers \"Rifleman\" Chuck Person. This was the \"Don't let that man hold a rifle, let alone drive a car\" Chuck Person. He weighed close to 275 pounds and played one second that entire Nets game. That one second was all he needed to hit a 25-foot three-bomb in Kendall Gill's face. His final stat line? 1 shot, 1 second, 1 heroic game-winning three. The Rifleman!
Walker's not at that point just yet; he's still got some game left.
But for those guys, the ones at the park who fill it up regardless of their age and waist size, for the 1999 version of Chuck Person, there's a groundswell of people ready to make Antoine Walker an All Star.
Naturally, there's going to be a backlash from this infectious movement.
\"Voting for Antoine Walker is making a mockery of the All-Star Game,\" critics will bemoan.
A mockery of the All-Star Game? That beacon of respect and tradition? The 2-Ball competition? The celebrity game that involves no one person at all worthy of the word celebrity (Sorry, random guy from \"Desperate Housewives\")? A dunk contest that let's a guy attempt the same slam 12 times -- and then still grants him a perfect score when he finally makes it? C'mon.
In truth, the voting system for the All-Star Game is a mockery in itself. Every year, injured players that participate in a dozen games in November are voted in as starters. Mike Bibby and Gilbert Arenas are sure to finish close to the top in their respective positions this year. They've combined to play in eight games this year.
Furthermore, there are some notable absences on the ballot. Yi -- having a nice little season as a starter in Milwaukee -- isn't even on there. Nor is the league's 12th leading rebounder, Atlanta's Al Horford. Keith Bogans is having a fabulous season down in Orlando, serving as a reliable scorer on the league's most surprising team. He's nowhere to be found.
No, Yi, Horford, and Bogans should not be starting in the All-Star Game this season. But they at least deserve to have their names on the ballot.
Walker's name, fortunately, is on there. Circle it, click it, do whatever you must. Let's get him that trip to New Orleans. It's the fans' vote. And they can never take that away!
Someone noted that when Walker was asked by a member of the media about the underground push, he wasn't too thrilled. Something about him not wanting people to \"feel bad for him\".
But this vote is not out of pity or disrespect. It's out of gratitude.
Walker's given us all a little something. And that something is hope. With 'Toine in the league, we realize it's OK to put on some weight in your 30s and still maintain that silky smooth touch. It's OK to be the guy you were five years ago though you may not look the same in the mirror. It's OK to shoot 3-pointers.
It's OK to shimmy.
And for that -- it's OK to vote for Antoine Walker as a 2008 NBA All Star.
Yes, like Oprah for Obama or Jackson Browne for John Edwards, I'm going with Antoine Walker in '08.
Perhaps we can get Chuck Person to be his running mate.
Though if that were the case, I doubt there'd be much running done at all.