For all basketball players, greatness doesn’t just magically appear on draft day; it’s hard-earned through skills developed and sacrifices made. The June 23, 2011 draft might be when many casual fans first heard the name Kemba Walker, but similar to MJ, his now-mentor, Kemba was laying the foundation for his success way back in high school.

Luckily, he didn’t have to do it alone. Kemba often credits his strong and supportive Bronx and Harlem communities with making him the player he is today: his laid-back parents, his friends and teammates, the older guys he played streetball with and his high school coach. “My guys and I did everything together,” Kemba says. “High school was the root of my strongest friendships, and I will always love it for all that it gave me.”

Kemba’s junior high school coach was the one who got him on the high school coach’s radar. The head coach, at the time, was quickly convinced of Kemba’s potential after watching just one game. Kemba played varsity for three seasons, where he learned how to better his defensive play, control his explosive speed and thrive under pressure. High school is where Kemba refined his signature pull-up jumpers — shots that helped his team earn the 2006 city title and three divisional championships.

During his senior year, Kemba used his speed and handles to average 18.2 points and 5.3 assists per game. Despite often being the smallest player on the court, Kemba led his New York Gauchos AAU team to multiple championships in 2007. His hard work didn’t stop once he got to college, where he became the nation’s leading scorer and graduated with a Sociology degree in just three years.

All of these years later, as a three-time NBA All-Star and two-time winner of the NBA Sportsmanship Award, Kemba has proven himself and his dedication to the game. When asked about sportsmanship, in particular, he says, “It’s who I am. I try to play the game the right way. I try to live my life the right way. I just go out there, play hard and do what I can to win.”

Now as a professional player for MJ’s team in Charlotte, Kemba knows the significance of dedicating a shoe to the GOAT’s high school years. “These are the colors of MJ’s high school, so I think it’s dope,” says Kemba of the Air Jordan V “Varsity Royal.” “I know the kids who get them will, in a way, get the same experience I’ve had with MJ, through his story. My goal has always been to make any kid feel like he or she has a chance, so to rep these is a real honor.”

Kemba Walker wears the Air Jordan V “Varsity Royal,” a shoe dedicated to MJ’s high school days in Wilmington, North Carolina. It’s now available on SNKRS and at select retailers.

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