Kemba Walker opens up on Knicks teammates, championship goals and his favorite NYC pizza


New Knicks guard Kemba Walker, the Bronx native and former UConn star who recently signed a free-agent deal to join his hometown team, takes a shot at some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby. 

Q: As a champion at Rice High School and at UConn, what word would you use to describe your level of hunger to win an NBA championship? 

A: What word would I use? 

Q: Starving? 

A: Yeah, I would definitely say starving (chuckle). There’s nothing more I will want than to win a championship in New York. That would be special. Especially being from here. … That’d be amazing. 

Q: What makes winners win? 

A: Winners are people who … only care about winning. That’s it. A winner is someone who’s gonna sacrifice for the sake of the team, regardless of what it is. Yeah man, winning guys put the team first before anything. 

Q: Why do you think you’ve always been that way? 

A: That’s just who I am. I just love people. … I love to see people happy, I love to see people smile. I love to see people have fun. It’s like, how can you not have fun when it’s a group of 15 guys that are with each other every single day, you know? So, if it’s one thing you want to do is you want to build a special environment all the time. 

Q: What makes a player a clutch player? 

A: A clutch player is a guy who just makes the right play at that right time. Everybody thinks maybe it’s just because you make the last shot. … That’s not always considered a clutch player. A clutch player is somebody who makes the right play, somebody who’s calm, cool and collected in pressure moments. 

Knicks guard Kemba Walker speaks to reporters during a press conference at Madison Square Garden on Aug. 17, 2021.Kemba WalkerGetty Images

Q: Describe your mentality on the court. 

A: Fearless. There’s nothing I’m scared to do. I’m not afraid of anything on the court. 

Q: How much did playing in The Jungle foster that? 

A: Everything, it’s everything. Being from here, playing in the playgrounds with a bunch of older guys when I was a young kid, that’s the reason why I have that kind of mentality. 

Q: What excites you about playing with Julius Randle? 

A: His toughness, and his growth from the last couple of years into now, I’m just like in awe the way he has grown as a basketball player. I’m looking forward to being out there with him. 

Q: RJ Barrett? 

A: I’ve just been a fan of him. When he was in high school I saw him play and I saw his highlights and stuff like that, I’ve always been a super-big fan of him. Playing against guys like RJ, the first thing I noticed was how hard he plays, it’s not even the skill. … That’s a real talent, playing hard. So I’m looking forward to just helping those guys a little bit more, teaching them the ropes. Just being a vet. 

Q: Immanuel Quickley? 

A: I love his last name (smile). You know what? When I signed, he was one of the first guys to text me, which was really cool, welcome me in, asked me to get some workouts in with me, I definitely appreciated that. But playing against him last year, even watching at Kentucky, he has so much potential. I think I could be able to help him get there. 

Q: Obi Toppin? 

A: I love Obi (smile). I know I’m getting excited to just throw the ball in the air, man. Obviously he’s another New York kid. I want to help the young guys as much as I can.

Q: Derrick Rose? 

A: I love D-Rose. I have always been a huge D-Rose fan, man. Just the way he carries himself, he just seemed like such a great dude. Young MVP, got hurt, so many people just talked so bad about him, but he just kept fighting, he kept fighting. Look at him now, he’s right back, and he’s been around for a long time now. But he’s had his situation with his knee, but you can tell how much work he’s put in. And I feel like me going through a situation with my knee and yada yada, he’s a guy who I can look to and ask questions, and pick his brain. 

Q: Carmelo Anthony? 

A: Melo’s just been my favorite player growing up, in general. Just always my favorite guy since Syracuse. Ever since he was at Oak Hill, I just always been a huge Melo fan. He was the reason I wore 15 throughout my career. When he came here, I was in heaven. 

Q: What was it about him? 

A: Just his swag, 6-8, get a bucket. I just felt like he was such a dope person. It was bigger than basketball for me with him. 

Q: What is your favorite Knicks memory? 

A: Maybe Allan Houston, when he hit the shot against Miami [in 1999]. 

Q: What drives you? 

A: It’s a mixture of many things … naysayers … guys who doubt you … that drives me. 

Q: Shutting them up? 

A: Yeah, all the time. And then, I think my love for the game. I love playing. It’s just my escape. Whatever I have going on in the real world, I can just go on the court and just get lost. 

Q: Describe the first time you played at the Garden. 

A: It was in high school, my sophomore year, Rice versus St. Patrick’s. I didn’t play much, might have touched the floor a few times, but not much at all. 

Q: What do you remember seeing and thinking and feeling? 

A: Oh man, I remember just telling myself, “I need to get better, so like next year when we come in I can actually be on the court (chuckle).” 

Q: Did St. John’s and then-coach Norm Roberts try to recruit you? 

A: They did, very, very, very, very hard, yes. 

Q: Why didn’t you? 

A: UConn was my dream school. No other school had a chance. 

Q: If you could go one-on-one against anyone in NBA history, who would it be? 

A: I would say A.I. [Allen Iverson]. He’s another smaller guy, a guy who I looked up to growing up. One of the reasons why I wanted to play basketball and play the way I play because he was so fearless, and tough. He always had things going on that could have distracted him from basketballs, but he always still played well. 

Q: If you could pick the brain of any point guard in NBA history? 

A: Tim Hardaway. He is my favorite point guard of all time … his relentlessness, his killer crossover, his height. 

Q: The best piece of advice Michael Jordan ever gave you? 

A: To be myself. I think early on in my career, I was deferring a lot. And he didn’t want that. He basically told me, “I drafted you for a reason.” 

Q: What did you learn about him watching “The Last Dance”? 

A: You hear about his competitive nature. … When you see him on “The Last Dance,” you’re like, man, this guy … I think people might have thought he was a little crazy (chuckle), because of how competitive he is. Gotta be. If you want to win as many championships, and accomplish what this man has accomplished, that’s the way you have to be. His leadership I thought was second to none. 

Q: How would you compare your competitiveness with his? 

A: I think it’s up there. We lead different. I think we definitely lead different. I’m more quiet, by example. 

Q: Describe Patrick Ewing as an assistant coach. 

A: Oh man, I love that guy. Definitely my favorite Knick. I can text him right now, he’ll text right back. It’s like the most unreal thing. 

Q: Who were your favorite Yankees? 

A: Derek Jeter. Loved Derek Jeter. 

Then-UConn star Kemba Walker, left, high-fives Derek Jeter as the Huskies were honored at Yankee Stadium in 2011.Kemba Walker and Derek Jeter in 2011.Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Q: Throwing out a first pitch at the Stadium … did you throw a strike? 

A: I want to say I went a little bit to the right. I made it to the plate though. I gotta go back, I need another one. Tell ’em I need a redo (laugh). 

Q: What would you want to say to the people of The Bronx? 

A: Thank you. Thank you for turning me from a boy to a man. Thank you for just teaching me life lessons, man. … I’ve been through a lot, I’ve seen so much. That place has changed my life. 

Q: Was it a great place to grow up? A dangerous place to grow up? 

A: I was in a pretty dangerous environment all the time from the [Soundview] Projects, so you just never know what’s gonna happen on a daily basis. I’ve been around a bunch of brawls, huge brawls, gunshots, name it. 

Q: How scary was it? 

A: Oh, it’s scary. It’s something that you definitely don’t … you wouldn’t like to be there at the time. Definitely scary experiences, but I made it through … and it’s helped me for sure. 

Q: You once wrote: “I gotta keep working hard to make it with ball somewhere. Tired of seeing my mom struggle.” 

A: We weren’t the richest family, we didn’t have that much money, but you couldn’t tell, that’s how I felt. As a young kid, I just appreciated that so much, the way she worked, try to provide for her kids. 

Q: Were there things you wanted but couldn’t have? 

A: No. That’s because of her — maybe I shouldn’t have had it either, but she found a way. I think that was the most special part about it. 

Q: What was it like for you when your brother Akil was incarcerated, on a first-degree robbery conviction in 2006, and what is your relationship with him like now? 

A: It was tough, obviously, but for me, I was so busy playing basketball, it helped me kind of keep my mind on that, and not think about my brother being in prison. Basketball kept me sane. 

Q: Where is he now? 

A: He is in Charlotte [N.C.] with his daughter, just trying to stay on the right path. 

Q: Would you consider borrowing a suit from Clyde Frazier? 

A: (Smile) No … sir! I can’t wear none of Clyde’s suits. It’s a little bit much for me I think. He’s fly though. He’s fly. I like his style. A lot. 

Q: What was it like meeting President Obama at the White House after winning the 2011 NCAA championship? 

A: That was definitely a very special moment for me. I actually got a huge, huge picture of me and him from that day. 

President Barack Obama, standing between then-UConn star Kemba Walker and head coach Jim Calhoun, holds up a jersey while posing for photographs with the 2011 NCAA champion UConn men's basketball team at the White House on May 16, 2011.From left, Kemba Walker, President Barack Obama and Jim Calhoun at the White House in 2011.Getty Images

Q: What kind of guy is he? 

A: He was so cool. It’s like he wasn’t even the president. It seemed like he was just a regular guy, man. That was the best part about the whole experience. 

Q: What are your thoughts about Nelson Mandela? 

A: I actually went to the museum two years back. He changed the world, man. Guys like that, who sacrifice themselves for the better of the world, need tons of recognition. 

Q: He would have made one helluva point guard. 

A: Probably. He would have got everybody the ball (laugh). 

Q: Describe Moe Hicks. 

A: That’s my high school coach. He taught me so much. He made my transition from high school to college very, very smooth because of the things that he taught me, especially on the defensive end. 

Q: What adjectives would you use to describe your UConn coach Jim Calhoun? 

A: He’s a motivator. Coach Calhoun coulda got me to run through a brick wall for him — and I would have. 

UConn guard Kemba Walker looks up at the school's honor board as his No. 15 is listed with past athletic greats while standing with head coach Jim Calhoun during a pep rally the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Conn., Tuesday, April 5, 2011.Jim Calhoun and Kemba Walker in 2011.AP

Q: What’s the best motivational ploy he used? 

A: An argument (laugh). Oh my goodness! I can’t remember anything specific about his motivational tactics, but him and Shabazz [Napier] got into an argument at halftime in the NCAA final. He did it on purpose. He knew what he was doing. Shabazz wasn’t playing that well, Jeremy [Lamb] wasn’t playing that well. It was so intense in that locker room, but the way we came out, I just looked at this man like, “What did you just do?” It was unbelievable. 

Q: Tony Parker. 

A: He just helped me look at the game in a whole other light. … When to be aggressive, when to up my aggression even more. 

Q: Chris Paul. 

A: His brain just works in a whole different way. He’s getting better with time. Which is great, because as a guy who’s getting a little bit older, and you see another guy who you looked up to for a long time and you see him older and still doing what he’s been doing for a long time, it’s pretty incredible to watch him. 

Q: What will it be like as one of New York’s City’s most eligible bachelors? 

A: I’m not married, but I’m not eligible either (smile). I’m a homebody, they won’t see me. They will only see me on the court. 

Q: Where are you going to live? 

A: Probably in the city. 

Q: Three dinner guests? 

A: MJ, Pop Smoke, Obama. 

Q: Favorite movie? 

A: “Apocalypto.” 

Q: Favorite actor? 

A: Omar Epps. 

Q: Favorite actress? 

A: Halle Berry. 

Q: Favorite meal? 

A: Pizza. 

Q: Where’s the best pizza in New York? 

A: Everywhere. Every corner (laugh). 

Q: What are your goals this season? 

A: Stay healthy, play as many games as I can, contribute as best as I can, just help these young guys, be here and lead. Whatever they need me to do. 

Q: How long do you want to play? 

A: I’ll play as long as I can. As long as I can be on that floor, I want to be out there. 

Q: What would your message to Knicks fans be about Kemba Walker and when they can expect a championship? 

A: I think they know me pretty well. It’s gonna be fun. I’m gonna give it every-everything I got. Every time I step on the court I’m gonna play super-hard, 110 percent. As far as a championship, I can’t put a time or date on it, but just know that we’re gonna be working towards that goal. … Hard. Very hard. 

Q: Do you think this team is close? 

A: There’s no telling, because throughout the course of a season, they have no idea what goes on — trades and injuries and things of that nature. God willing, none of that stuff happens. But I think we have a really good team. 

Q: Why is it so important to you to be a role model? 

A: Being from here, I feel like you always hear things that you can’t do. And I’m smaller. I feel like if I made it anybody could. That’s exactly how I feel. I feel like if I did it, like literally anybody can. That’s why I feel like I need to be a role model, because I’m from the projects, and there’s so many kids in the projects who might think that they can’t get out of it, but they can. Because I’m living proof.