It is 2 p.m. on a gray Friday in Boise, Idaho, and Antoine Walker isn't answering the door to his apartment.
He lives south of the city, in a generic complex of drab buildings where men take the trash out in their pajamas, old women walk small dogs in slow circles and a newsletter admonishes residents to "PLEASE dispose of cigarette butts properly."
After a second knock on the door, and a two-minute wait, there is the sound of movement in the ground-floor, two-bedroom apartment, outside of which two yellowed phone books are stacked like ancient, withered paperweights. Finally, the door opens a crack, but whoever opened it retreats quickly to one of the bedrooms.
The air is thick with the smell of smoke. The blinds are drawn. A lighter sits on the coffee table, next to a giant jug of Crystal Geyser water. Unlit incense sticks are nearby. On the TV a game of NBA 2K12 is paused in the second quarter-the Pacers versus the Spurs. There is a large box of Cheez-Its on the floor and bagged-up cartons of Kentucky Fried Chicken in the corner. Boxes of Corn Pops and Cap'n Crunch line the top of the refrigerator.
In five hours Walker will take the court for the Idaho Stampede of the NBA's Development League. For now he has agreed to talk about how and why he came to be here-a three-time All-Star living in a $915-a-month apartment he shares with reserve guard Chris Davis, and playing for a salary of less than $25,000. He has no car, subsists mainly on cold cuts and fast food and plays in front of crowds as small as 155.
After five minutes, Walker emerges from the bedroom, dressed in a T-shirt and sweats, his eyes hazy. He turns off the video game, plops down on the couch and begins to speak.
TRIVIA QUESTION: Entering this season, how many players in NBA history had won an NCAA title, an NBA title and earned more than $90 million as a pro?
Answer: Two. One is Michael Jordan. The other is Antoine Walker.
The road back began in December 2010, when Walker sat at a makeshift podium in the basement of Boise's CenturyLink Arena. Next to him was Randy Livingston, the coach of the Stampede and an old friend. The two men had an announcement: Walker, only a year and a half removed from the NBA, would be joining the team. "I still feel like I have a lot of basketball left in me," Walker said.
At 34, Walker should have been in the final years of his NBA prime. Sure, he'd fallen on hard times, declaring personal bankruptcy in May 2010 after blowing the $110 million he made as a player (as well as the unspecified millions he landed in endorsements) due to a lavish lifestyle, a series of disastrous real estate deals, sizeable gambling losses and well-intentioned largesse-at one point he reportedly had between 30 and 70 friends and family members on his payroll. Most players of his stature looking for a payday head overseas, where they can earn seven-figure salaries. But Walker was choosing the NBADL, a place for young dreamers, never-weres and never-will-bes. The league's average age hovers around 25, and the average NBA experience is 33 games. "He's got some balls, you have to give him that," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told SI recently. "A lot of people, their pride wouldn't allow them to do something like that."