It is 10 minutes into the game against the Reno Bighorns on Friday night, and CenturyLink Arena is rocking, at least by D-League standards. The game is on local TV and also being simulcast on the NBADL website, which is as big as it gets around here. Nearly 3,000 fans are in attendance, and there is hope among the Stampede staff, for a few minutes at least, that Mitt Romney, who was in the attached Grove Hotel for a fund-raiser earlier in the afternoon, might be one of them. (He is not.) As with all D-League home games the arena includes innumerable distractions: a giant inflatable bouncy house that looks like a castle, a clown-shaped playpit, a row of pop-a-shot machines, an inflatable blimp flying overhead dropping coupons. The smell of popcorn is overwhelming.
With the Stampede up by 15 in the second quarter, there's a genuine buzz. Walker hits a three, then makes a beautiful entry pass and, a few minutes later, swishes another three. With the Stampede up nearly 25, he catches the ball on the break and throws a lefthanded, no-look, behind-the-back pass to a trailing Reggie Larry. Larry, a young, athletic forward, throws it down with prodigious force. The crowd goes nuts; the bench goes nuts. The lead is nearing 30.
During the next timeout, Walker jogs over to the bench, breathing hard, sweat streaming down his bald head. His teammates rise to congratulate him, patting him on the back, rubbing that slippery dome. Walker finishes with 12 points (all on three-pointers), six rebounds and four assists in 20 minutes. Afterward he will head out into the night, looking for companionship, a little affirmation, maybe a free drink.
For now, though, he remains frozen in a moment, in this moment: a hero to his teammates. A hero in Boise, Idaho. A man you can cheer for.