In the 13th year of his pro career, Henry Walker’s longevity is a testament to his fierce determination.
Speaking a few weeks before Thanksgiving, a quintessential American holiday, the Shiga Lakestars forward expressed gratitude for the chance to keep plying his craft despite numerous injury setbacks over the years.
Walker has endured six knee surgeries. He’s torn the anterior cruciate ligament in both knees. He suffered major knee injuries in high school and college and during a pre-draft workout with the Golden State Warriors in ’08. And he no longer has knee cartilage known as meniscus.
“It is what it is, but I come from a line of hard-working people,” Walker told The Japan Times after Shiga’s 79-58 loss to the host Yokohama B-Corsairs on Sunday.
“My mother worked her ass off. She didn’t make excuses, she just got the job done. That’s just what was instilled with me,” he added before describing her as a dedicated restaurant worker, including at a Marshall University cafeteria in Huntington, West Virginia, where he was born and later met Marshall football stars Chad Pennington and Randy Moss, among others.
“Even when I was getting injured, my mom told me, like, ‘You can’t quit just because there’s a setback. Life is about pain and suffering. One is inevitable and the other’s an option.’ So there’s going to be pain, but it doesn’t mean I have to suffer through it. So that’s what I kept thinking. I’m just going to keep working and something good’s going to happen because I’m building that positive momentum, trying to keep positive energy, even though, like, ‘Man, I’m tearing my knees up.’ ”
Using his mother’s advice as inspiration, Walker found a way to carve out a successful pro career. It began in 2008. He was drafted in the second round (47th overall pick by the Washington Wizards, who traded him to the Boston Celtics). His career included stints with the New York Knicks and Miami Heat, too. In 2009, he competed for the Celtics in the NBA playoffs, then did the same things for the Knicks in 2011. In 181 NBA games, Walker made 35 starts and averaged 6.0 points. He’s also played in the NBA Development League (now called the NBA G League) and in Venezuela, Croatia, Turkey, Uruguay and the Philippines.
“I lost a lot of athleticism but it was kind of a blessing because I had to learn other parts of my game,” stated Walker, who was called Bill until he began using his middle name in 2014. “I had to work on other parts of my game.”
Which is why Walker truly appreciates what he’s experienced since turning pro. Just “making it to the NBA after all the knee injuries and things like that” ranks No. 1 on his list of top thrills as a player.
“Being a kid and dreaming about it since I was 8 years old to actually accomplishing it and actually playing five years, I didn’t think I would have a shot after getting injured so many times,” Walker said. “I did have a pretty good run and I have no regrets about it.”