Darrell Walker: The Art of the Game

September 11th, 2017 | by Sam Smith

Darrell Walker may have been the Jackson Pollock painting version of an NBA player, all frantic arms and legs, his shot looking like those misguided blotches and scribbles on canvass.

But the one time Bull could make the pass an art form, averaging eight assists one season when he was one of an elite group of NBA players before Russell Westbrook, including the likes of Jason Kidd and Lafayette Lever, who flirted with averaging a triple double in a season.

Now the basketball coach of Division 2 Clark University in Atlanta is using his longtime interest in art to provide one of his best assists. Walker Tuesday will host the second annual Darrell Walker Art and Basketball auction at 6 p.m. in the Atlanta Woodruff Art Center. For those unable to be in Atlanta, you can bid at Paddle8.com until 9 p.m. Tuesday.

“It’s a win, win,” says the Corliss High School product who played for the 1993 Bulls champions in a 10-year NBA playing career. “It’s a fun way for people to give to the school and the kids and they get to walk out the door with something.”

The artwork comes from benefactors who were attracted by Walker’s plan to help his players graduate, a true masterpiece benevolence.

Walker requires his players, even incoming freshman, to take six hours of summer school classes at least their first two years in school. The objective is not only to help orient to academic discipline, but to make sure the players are on the way to getting their degrees while playing basketball.

Big time scholarship sports is, essentially, a fulltime job with practices and games, especially at the larger schools. Those universities often diminish academics for players under the guise that the players will be able to earn a living as pros. Walker, though he had a long NBA career, knows few make it, and even fewer from Division 2. So he’s made academics a priority while turning around the basketball program in tripling the wins in his first season.

“I’ve wanted to get a college job for a long time, so I always said if I got a chance to get one I was going to have a way to raise money for my guys,” said Walker, who was a tough and physical 6-4 guard. “When I took this job it was a perfect time to do it. It’s a private school and they don’t have any extra money for summer school, like the U. of Illinois, for instance. So I came up with the Darrell Walker Art Auction to send my guys to school.”

The art is among pieces donated or that Walker has collected in a long education in the art world that started with teammate Bernard King when Walker was drafted No. 12 overall in 1983.

Walker admits he wasn’t as concerned with academics as he should have been. He went to junior college and then the U. of Arkansas, though he left without a degree. He did return and in 2012 got his degree and was walked across the stage by a proud former coach Eddie Sutton. Walker was a ferocious NBA defender and routinely among the leaders in steals and assists and rebounds among guards.

In 1989-90 for the Wizards he averaged over 81 games and 36 minutes per game 9.5 points, 8.8 rebounds and eight assists. He averaged 8.9 points in his career with a high of 13.5 with the Knicks in 1985. He missed two games his first four seasons in the NBA and played at least 81 games in five of his first seven seasons.

He was one of those savvy veterans the Bulls would add annually during the championship run to provide maturity and stability. Walker retired after the Bulls 1993 championship and then coached the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards and has been a longtime NBA assistant. He wanted to work with kids, but he routinely was rejected for collegiate jobs with the excuse he never coached in college. Right, just in the NBA. So he went to Clark in downtown Atlanta and righted the program immediately.

“I got involved with art from the Hall of Famer himself, Bernard King,” Walker explains. “I got drafted in 1983 and he’d always want to take me to museums, galleries. I’m young and dumb and said, ‘I’m going to Studio 54 to hang out.’ And that’s what I did. We ended up playing together with Washington in the late 80s and he got back on me again about collecting. When I went to the Pistons in ’92 and then the Bulls I started collecting.”

So if that 1993 team perhaps was a work of art, Walker would also know.

“Every time I’d come into a town,” he said, “I’d go to a museum or gallery or artist studio. I read art books and educated myself about art. I concentrated on African –American sculptures, photos. I’ve amassed 75 or 80 pieces. People liked the idea that the money would go toward students working toward their degrees and graduate, so they gave art to sell.”

Walker’s initiative, nurtured that one season with the Bulls in his Chicago homecoming, should be a model for the progress it is making. It’s making Clark one of those places where student-athlete isn’t just an illusion.

“Think about coming in as a freshman and the coach says its mandatory to take six (summer school) hours and then you can go home,” says Walker.  “Next year another six and go back home and you’ve a semester under your belt. You get to be a senior and you’re going to have maybe nine hours or less to graduate. We’re getting them on track to graduate.

“I’m here on campus in summer,” says Walker, who also maintains a home in Arkansas. “You can say to go home and take classes on line, but we’re not doing that because I don’t know what they’ve doing. If they’re on campus, I know what is going on. I make them give me five weeks in the summer and then they can go home and have plenty of time. The guys also get a chance to bond in the summer, play pickup basketball, get to hang out.

“Look, I was lucky enough to have enough talent to get to the NBA,” Walker notes. “But a lot of these guys are not going to have that. They are going to leave school and are going to the real world. I went to a fantasy world. They’re going to the real world where they’ll make an average salary. But you have to have a degree to get your foot in the door. My goal is to have them where they can graduate and someday maybe even have a program where they can get their masters when they still are on campus. I haven’t figured that out yet.”

Last year at the first auction, $40,000 was raised for the summer school attendance and Walker hopes to raise more this year with bidding closing Tuesday night. The season is soon to start. Walker took a program with 15 wins over the previous two years to a 21-11 record last season and post season appearance.

“We have a chance to be pretty good this season,” Walker says. “We’re better talent wise, but they still have to jell. I’m having a great time. You have to start somewhere. They kept telling me (at collegiate interviews) I had a great resume, but I’d never coached college. I’m thinking I’d coached at the highest level, but it is what it is. Now they can’t say I’ve never been a coach college, never recruited, never ran a program. And they damn sure can’t say I can’t fund raise.

“The big thing,” says Walker, “is you want these guys to be able to graduate, move on, have a degree. Be able to put on a suit and tie and knock on someone’s door and have a shot in the real world.”

It can be a beautiful picture; perhaps Walker’s collection prize.