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New York survivors join Bulls' title troupe

Published Oct. 9, 2005

One has lasted 11 seasons; the other has toiled for 10. They were born role players, Trent Tucker the spot-up shooter, Darrell Walker the dogged defender. They came to the Knicks a year apart, first-round draft picks at the boot camp of a drill sergeant named Hubie Brown.

If the two guards could have merged their skills somehow, become one player, the coach might have had something nice to say. Tucker was too passive to suit him. Walker was too wild. Sometimes it was as if their mere existence got under his skin.

"We went through some tough times with Hubie at the beginning," Walker said Friday. "But Trent and I are still here. Still together. Still standing."

They stand, behind Michael Jordan, with the Chicago Bulls, who were poised to win a National Basketball Association championship Friday night. One more victory over the Phoenix Suns would mean Tucker and Walker, two old Knicks, a couple of well-worn guards and friends reunited near the finish of their careers, finally would get their rings.

"It's not like we're doing anything except sitting back and watching M.J.," Walker said. That is nothing to complain about. There are no identity crises, no concealed jealousies, no anxieties about whether these Bulls will be remembered as a one-man act or one great team, as there occasionally are for some of the younger Bulls.

"Do you realize how many great players never even played in the finals?" said Walker, 32. "I played with one for a few years, Bernard King, with the Knicks and in Washington. I tell that to some of the younger guys. I say: "Do you know what it's like to play on teams that lose 50 games year in and year out?'


Only when the journey takes you from a crumbling Knicks team to a bad Denver team to a horrendous Washington team to a sliding Detroit team do you understand.

Walker departed New York in November 1985, much sooner than Tucker, who remained through two upbeat Rick Pitino years and two downbeat post-Pitino years before moving to Phoenix and then out of the league for half a season before San Antonio threw him a rope.

"Darrell and I never lost touch," said Tucker, 33. Their friendship began when Walker, before his rookie season, called Tucker, wanting advice about where to live in New York. Walker's training-camp roommate was Marvin Webster, a moody 7-footer who wouldn't let him watch television at night or talk long on the phone. Tucker's roommate was King, a complicated loner.

Over summers, they began a tradition of visiting each other, at Walker's place in Little Rock, Ark., and Tucker's homes in his native Flint, Mich., or in Minnesota, where he went to college.

Walker, the flash-tempered one who once went face-to-face with Brown while the other Knicks took practice shots around them, is married with two young sons. Tucker is an avowed bachelor.

"Trent married?" said Walker, looking like he had been asked whether Jordan is much of a player. "That's a good one."

"Marriage has been good for Darrell," Tucker said. "It's given him stability."

Between November, when he was cut by the Pistons, and January, Walker was home with his family in Little Rock, thinking about "life after basketball." A call from the Bulls' personnel maven, Jerry Krause, was an invitation to his fantasy. Chicago's South Side is where Walker was raised, where most of his family lives, where Tucker had landed as a walk-on during training camp.

The date all NBA contracts became guaranteed, Jan.

10, is the day Tucker finally exhaled, he said. Then John Paxson got hurt. In came Walker to sit next to him on the bench, contribute a few minutes here and there and, with Tucker, keep Jordan company on the long and lonely road.

Jordan prefers the company of veterans, and he always liked Trent Tucker, who has been a friend to stars like Julius Erving, Magic Johnson and Patrick Ewing. When he was a sophomore in college, Tucker was a summer counselor at a Five Star basketball camp in Pittsburgh. Jordan was a high school senior camper.

"He looked good," Tucker said.

"How good?"

"Not this good."

Two guards who came into the league as first-rounders _ Tucker as the sixth pick in 1982 and Walker as the 12th in 1983 _ might be remembered for not reaching their expected level, or as valuable team guys who made the most of their skills to last a decade.