- Chad Ford, ESPN Senior Writer
Merciless booing. Standing ovations.
Celtics fans either love or hate Antoine Walker. Sometimes they feel both emotions in the very same game.
Danny Ainge has been there. Still is there, really.
Ainge blasted Antoine on TNT as an analyst. Then he quickly backtracked when he took over the Celtics, telling the media he had "absolutely no intention of trading Antoine Walker" just a few days after taking the job on May 9, 2003. But by the end of the summer, before Walker had played a single game for Ainge, 'Toine was wearing a Dallas Mavericks jersey.
Walker's reaction? "I knew he was a snake," Walker said a few months after Ainge had traded him. "Point blank, it's personal. You can't run a basketball organization like that. You can't treat pros like that."
Ainge proved that, in fact, he can. Less than two years later, Walker came running back into Ainge's arms and to a better Celtics team than the one he left.
"I was so happy that Danny and the ownership decided to bring me back," Walker said after the trade. "I know it takes a lot of heart, especially with the things that were said and the way it went down."
Walker was welcomed home as the Celtics' redeemer by the fans, who have been turning out in droves to cheer on 'Toine and the C's. Attendance has gotten a huge boost. The Celtics, for the first time in two years, were relevant again.
After the Celtics won 11 of their first 12 with Antoine, both Walker and Ainge were hailed as heroes.
"You always hear the loudest voices with Antoine," Ainge, the Celtics' executive director of basketball operations, told Insider in an exclusive interview last weekend. "He has one of those personalities that's a lightning rod. He just attracts the good and the bad."
Now that the Celtics have settled down a little, winning just three of their last nine, the picture on Walker and the trade is becoming hazy again. The euphoria of the moment has worn off, revealing that Walker is neither the answer nor the problem. The truth lies somewhere in between.
23hSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann