James "Jimmy" Walker (April 8, 1944 – July 2, 2007) was an American professional basketball player. A 6'3" (1.91 m) guard, he played nine seasons (1967–1976) in the NBA as a member of the Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets, and Kansas City Kings. Walker was a two-time All-Star who scored 11,655 points in his career. He was also the father of former NBA player Jalen Rose, though he left Rose's mother prior to his birth and took no part in the child's upbringing. Walker died on July 2, 2007, at the age of 63, from complications related to lung cancer.
Walker played basketball on the streets of Boston's Roxbury neighborhood. Originally a bit overweight as a teen, he worked on his game for hours, even alone, at the Lewis School playground. An older player from Cambridge, Mass., Francis "Rindge" Jefferson, who had played at Kentucky State, took an interest in the 14-year old Walker, already 6'2". Jefferson worked with the middle school star. A semi-pro team Jefferson was involved in, the Bruins, even took Walker along as a player, by the time he was 15, in state wide semipro tournaments against former college stars. Walker also played with the Bruin Juniors. He starred at Boston Trade High School, and was noticed in the schoolyards by Celtics' star Sam Jones. Jones took an interest in the 6'3" teenager, and steered the average student to his own alma mater, Laurinburg Institute, a black preparatory school in North Carolina once attended by Dizzy Gillespie. At Laurinburg, Walker improved his grades. It was when his cousin Bill Blair was being recruited by Providence College, that he told then-Coach Joe Mullaney, "You should see my cousin Jimmy".
The Friars were ranked number three in the nation in Walker's sophomore year and despite suffering a 109-69 forty-point blowout by Princeton and their All American Bill Bradley in the Eastern Regional Finals, cursed by a horrid shooting performance and 41 points from Bradley, a national championship seemed quite possible for the following season. The Friars were returning all five starters, including James Benedict, Bill Blair Cite error: There are <ref> tags on this page without content in them (see the help page). and future NBA All-Star Mike Riordan. But then the hoop gods turned away from Providence, when they lost Dexter Westbrook. The promising 6-foot-7 sophomore from the Big Apple was the team's starting center. He was a versatile and athletic talent, but the tough academic standards proved to be his downfall. He was forced out of school, and the Friars' chance at a title vanished.
At Providence, Walker's game (much as that of Michigan star Cazzie Russell) was compared to that of the premier player of the era, Cincinnati Royals superstar Oscar Robertson. Walker averaged 23 points as a junior, and led the nation with 30 a game as a senior. His high point total of 50 points came in the 1965 Madison Square Garden Holiday Basketball Festival title game, when Providence defeated Bob Cousy's Boston College team 91-86 to win the tournament. For his efforts, Walker was named MVP of the tournament. Jimmy Walker was also named MVP of the 1966 Holiday Festival when Providence defeated Saint Joseph's University and Cliff Anderson in the title game. With the two awards, Walker was the first player to be named MVP in the Holiday Festival two years in a row. He was also one of the first college players to use the between-the-legs dribble.
Walker led the nation in scoring in his senior year of 1966-1967, averaging 30 points a game, without the benefit of a three-point line. Walker's 2,000-plus points led Providence for four decades, until his all-time scoring record was broken in 2005 by Ryan Gomes. Walker was able to accomplish this in only three seasons; at the time, freshmen were not allowed to play varsity basketball. Jimmy Walker ended his college career in the quarterfinals of the 1967 NIT in the last basketball tournament held at the third Madison Square Garden, when he scored 36 points but missed a jump shot at the end of the game as Providence bowed to Marquette 81-80 in overtime. Walker later said that the missed shot was the only thing that went wrong for him in Madison Square Garden.
Walker was selected number one overall in the 1967 NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons, the first year the NBA had abandoned its territorial draft (under the old draft, which granted an extra first round pick to be used on collegians within 100 miles of their professional team, Walker might have been selected by the Celtics and teamed with his mentor Sam Jones). He was also the final pick in the 1967 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints (the pick now known as Mr. Irrelevant), despite never having played college football; this makes Walker the only athlete drafted first by one pro league and last by another.
Despite playing in two NBA All-Star games, Walker never reached his full potential as a pro, partly due to his weight gain. His game had been predicated on quickness. Nonetheless, he averaged 20.8 ppg in 1969-70, 21.3 in 1971-72, 19.8 in 1973-74, and averaged almost 17 per game over a nine-year career. The numbers are all the more impressive when one considers that Walker teamed with star guards such as Dave Bing in Detroit, and Nate Archibald in Kansas City-Omaha.