Kemba Walker is set to make his return to Charlotte, the city where he spent the first eight seasons of his NBA career. As a Hornet, Walker became the greatest player in franchise history accumulating a ton of accolades along the way: three All-Star appearances, an All-NBA nod and 12,009 points, the most in franchise history.
Walker was the heart and soul of Charlotte on the court, and off of it, he was the Queen City's favourite son.
"I saw a person that was just...always wanting to do the right things. Always wanting to just about the city - always happy," second-year assistant coach Nate Mitchell said of Walker. "Great smile, I thought he always came in with great energy. I just feel like he did a lot for this city and this organization - he deserves nothing but thank you."
Mitchell spent his first season in the NBA as part of James Borrego's staff last year. Coincidentally it was Walker's last season with the Hornets, but even in the short period of time, Mitchell spent with the Hornets' icon his impact was felt.
"I'll always remember a coachable All-Star," Mitchell continued. "A guy that would come to the bench and say 'what else do I need to do' or 'did I do that right?'.
"'Am I getting this correctly' whatever the situation whether it be defensively or offensively. For me being in my first year in the NBA, for a guy like that who's been an All-Star already who could take constructive criticism (from me) - I thought that was huge and I always thought he was going to be successful wherever he landed."
By all accounts around the organization, Walker was a humble and thoughtful superstar even when the cameras weren't around. His passion for the Hornets carried on off the court where he spent time building relationships with members of the Hornets fanbase, season ticket holders and youth in the community.
As he made his way into Spectrum Centre for Friday's game between his new team the Boston Celtics and old team the Charlotte Hornets he hugged and greeted many members of the Hornets staff. Spend eight years anywhere and you'll create bonds that may never be broken and memories that will last a lifetime.
And while most will remember what Walker did on the court, many of the Hornets staff - who were happy to once again see his smile around the Spectrum Center - will remember the man off the court.
"Everything you hear about him as a person is absolutely true, 100 percent true," Mike Cristaldi Vice President of Communications for the Charlotte Hornets told NBA.com. "Great guy, down to earth, humble - treated the people behind the scenes, first class.
"Just a regular guy who wanted to do what was best for the organization would always think of the organization first when he was doing stuff. Whether that would be in the community appearance, whether that would be an event with a season ticket holder or corporate partner he was always about the organization, community, Charlotte."
Cristaldi joined the team ahead of the 2013-14 season, Walker's third year in Charlotte. Over six seasons Cristaldi saw Walker morph into one of the most important figures in Charlotte's sports history. But the man Walker was off the court is who Cristaldi will miss the most.
"I think of the community events he did with his mentees and just how he did it because he wanted to mentor them not because of publicity not because of getting fan fair - it was something that was important to him," Cristaldi continued. "I remember even the first time we did something publicly telling the media about it, he was really hesitant about it because he didn't want that to be what it was about and he didn't want that to take away from what he was doing not from his standpoint but from the kids' standpoint.
"He didn't want the kids to think that it was more or something other than about him and them. He wasn't looking for accolades or publicity - he wanted to do it because he thought it was the right thing to do. He really believed in it and he believed in those kids. To me, that's one of the things that really stuck out to me - just how he handled that whole situation because he really did it for all the right reasons."
Walker signed a four-year $140 million dollar contract joining the Celtics this past summer. Despite leaving the team, many expect the fanbase to give Walker a ton of love when he's introduced for the first time as a visitor.
"Kemba is Charlotte, everyone loved Kemba and Kemba loved everyone," Jacinda Garabito Hornets' in-arena host told NBA.com. "There was a genuineness in him, he was a little bashful and a little shy and I think that humbleness has really carried a long way.
"Off the court, he was an even better person than he was on the court."
"Kemba has one of the biggest hearts that ever played for the Hornets. That's why I call him a Hornets legend," Derrick "Fly Ty" Jacobs told NBA.com. "What really stuck out to me was the way that he was confident in his game on the court, but off the court, I think he really had a heart for the fans and that bother about the humility.
"He never beat his chest, he never jumped up and down or was bragging on himself - his ultimate goal was to be number one a team player and number two win games and that's what made him so great."
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