Donnie Walsh honored with court dedication

by Kieran Darcy

NEW YORK -- Welcome home, Donnie.

Two and a half years after an awkward breakup with the New York Knicks, Donnie Walsh returned to his native city Tuesday night as a guest of honor.

Walsh was feted at Fordham Prep in the Bronx, his high school alma mater. The school’s refurbished basketball court was renamed the Donnie Walsh Court in an early-evening ceremony.

A member of the Class of 1958, Walsh scored 1,260 points in three varsity seasons, the second-highest total in Fordham Prep history. He still owns the school’s single-season scoring record, averaging 25.2 points per game.

Walsh called the tribute an “unbelievable honor.”

“To have a court named after you, it really shocked me when I was told that that would happen,” Walsh told a packed gymnasium. “I don’t know that I deserve it, but I do know this. That I owe so much to this school -- that is the real reason for any success that I’ve had in my life.

“It was a place where I got academic preparation, I fell in love with basketball, and I got a spiritual foundation which kind of helps you in the up and down periods. In the NBA, they’re daily.”

That last part elicited laughter from the crowd. But Walsh certainly experienced ups and downs in his three years running the Knicks as president and general manager.

He restored the franchise’s credibility after the embarrassment of the Isiah Thomas era, and successfully gutted the roster in order to put the Knicks in position to sign LeBron James in the summer of 2010. But James turned down the Knicks, forcing them to settle for Amar'e Stoudemire.

He was able to attain Carmelo Anthony in a blockbuster trade in February of 2011. But just four months later, Knicks owner James Dolan abruptly announced that Walsh and the Knicks had mutually agreed to part ways.

Walsh is back with the Indiana Pacers now as a consultant, working with team president Larry Bird and general manager Kevin Pritchard. Understandably, he was reluctant to talk very much about the Knicks on Tuesday.

“I’m not here. I don’t know what’s going on with the team,” Walsh said. “I know that when I was with the Knicks I enjoyed every minute of it, I tried to do what I said I would do, and I thought that Glen [Grunwald] carried that on, and I think Steve Mills will carry it from here.”

Walsh did admit being surprised that Grunwald, who succeeded him with the Knicks, was suddenly replaced by Mills two months ago. And he attributed the Knicks’ 3-6 start primarily to the loss of injured center Tyson Chandler.

“When you lose Chandler, you take that kind of big man off any team, and they’re gonna have a problem,” Walsh said. “That’s the problem.”

The Brooklyn Nets are also struggling, off to a 3-7 start.

“I think with the Nets it’s the same story, a lot of guys are hurt,” Walsh said. “They haven’t had a long time to get together and develop a chemistry. There was a lot of firsts happening with the Nets at the beginning of the season. So I think as it goes on they’re gonna get better.”

As for new Nets coach Jason Kidd, “I think he’ll be a great coach,” Walsh said. “But you can’t judge him on the first 10 games.”

Walsh’s Pacers, in town to play the Knicks on Wednesday, are certainly not struggling. They’re currently 9-1 -- the best record in the Eastern Conference and tied for the best record in the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs.

They also bested the Knicks in last year’s playoffs, taking out higher-seeded New York in six games in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Walsh is nearing the end of his long and distinguished NBA career -- he’ll turn 73 years old in March. But he said he feels good and is still having “a lot of fun.”

“I love the ingredients of this team,” Walsh said. “We’ve got a lot of things going for us.”

And now Donnie Walsh has a court in New York he can always call home.