On the surface, Charlotte Hornets star Kemba Walker may not be your first choice to be a basketball ambassador who travels to Tokyo to attend a Golden State Warriors-Toronto Raptors NBA Finals viewing party with Asian fans. But upon further review, you recall how the clean-cut, soft-spoken Bronx native’s game is so smooth, energetic and confident. That kind of output translates in any language.
Back in the States, Walker is beloved in Charlotte, where the 29-year-old point guard is already the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, and fawned over by fan bases of other teams that would love to sign him once he becomes a free agent this summer.
Unfortunately for basketball lovers, the three-time all-star doesn’t hint to us as to where he’s leaning with his team decision. What he does do, however, is happily point us to his favorite Charlotte restaurant, talk about his first visit to Japan and reveal his favorite pastime during the season.
Was this your first time in Japan?
Yeah. I went to China last year, but this is my first time in Japan.
Tell me a little about the experience.
I’ve been here two days so far. Will be here two more days. So far, so good. It’s a blessing. Being from where I’m from, being able to come all the way to Japan is something I never even dreamed of. I’m excited. I’ve been doing a few things [on my downtime], but the main goal out here is really just to promote the game of basketball. That’s what I’m out here for.
How did you get involved with this particular NBA viewing party?
I was invited by the NBA. I took the opportunity right away. Like I said, it’s a place I’ve heard a lot about. It’s a place that I’ve always wanted to [visit], so I’m happy I’m getting the chance to be here and be one of the ambassadors for our league. I’m just trying to explain the game.
How were the fans watching the Raptors/Warriors game?
It was dope. A lot of energy. People don’t really understand how big of fans these guys are out here. They love the game of basketball, especially when it’s on [TV]. They’re so excited watching it. It was a cool sight to see.
The NBA’s making a conscious effort to expand the game in Asia, Africa and Europe. What do you think about the league’s globalization plan?
I love it. It gives people [in the NBA] a chance to do things they probably never thought they’d do. That little round basketball has brought all of us so far. It gave us a chance to go places. It gave us a chance to meet new people. It gave us a chance to take care of our families and stuff like that.
What Adam [Silver, the NBA’s commissioner] is doing is a wonderful job. He’s doing a great job of expanding the game globally and not just in the U.S. That’s what it’s all about. The game can do so much for people. It brings them together. I love how it’s working out for us.
Let’s move a little closer to home. What makes Charlotte special to you?
For me, I’ve been there since I was a rookie. That’s the only place I’ve known in the league. That’s why it’s special to me. We started at the very bottom from Day One. We won seven games [during the 2011-12 season] and have worked our way up to being an organization that people are recognizing more.
We haven’t been a consistent playoff team but we’re on the map a little bit. We just have to take that next step, if we want to be a great organization. But I love that place. The fans are great. It’s an easy place to live. That’s just what I like.
If you were playing tour guide and giving me a sample of Charlotte for a day, where would we go?
Honestly, we’d probably just chill at the house all day. That’s usually what I do. But there’s this one hibachi place called Nakato that I always go to. That’s one of my favorite restaurants in Charlotte. I’m always in there. Me and my teammates are in there a lot. If we were chilling in Charlotte, that’s where I’d take you.
When I’m in a big city, I go shopping. That’s probably what I’m doing. Me and [teammate Jeremy] Lamb will probably hit a mall up. After that, it’s right back to the room to play the PS4 or something.
Are you a shoe guy, a hat guy or are you shopping for everything?
Pretty much everything. Whatever I see that I like, I probably get it. I’m a big sneaker guy and I love clothes.
Besides Japan, what else do you have planned for summer travel?
I’m going to Paris in a few weeks with [my shoe endorser] Jordan Brand. That’s really it. I’m just going to be training, getting better for USA Basketball. Going to prepare to make my decision for next season.