PORTLAND – The sass is all but gone. The swagger, too. And the wiggle, which was something Antoine Walker could have trademarked.

Basketball fans may yet see its return.

“You never know,” said Walker. “Got to get my game back first.”

He is broke but not broken. He has gambled or given away millions of dollars. Bad investments, bad choices. Bad friends who took and never gave back. He’s felt the cold steel of handcuffs around his wrists when monstrous debts couldn’t be repaid.

His private life is public. He is the former Celtics star whose fall from wealth and glamour is the perfect cautionary tale. And now at age 34, he’s trying to reclaim something, anything, from his past as an NBA starter.

The big crowd at the Portland Expo gave Walker a rousing ovation when he was introduced last among the Idaho Stampede’s starting five Thursday night. A few Celtics shirts with Walker’s No. 8 were spotted in the stands.

“The reception I got tonight was heartfelt,” said Walker. “I played eight years here (Boston). I’ve got friends here.”

He joined the Stampede last month to play for old friend Randy Livingston. Walker didn’t want a handout. He wanted another chance to catch on with an NBA team.

Sure, the money would help pay what’s owed, but playing basketball is his life. To use the past tense sticks in his throat.

“Everything is a new beginning,” said Walker after a morning shootaround at the Expo. “I don’t know if it’s going to work or not. I think I can help somebody. I’m a guy who is 6-9 who can stretch the defense.”

His weight is listed at 245. He doesn’t have a chiseled body, yet he looked trimmer than he did when he last played in the NBA in 2008.

He dropped between 30 and 40 pounds so he could get up and down the court with the much younger players in the NBA Development League. He lives in Boise where the distractions are much fewer. To the kid who grew up in Chicago and the man who played in the NBA’s big cities, it has to seem like exile.

“It’s humbling. You have a greater appreciation for what (teammates) are going through,” he said.

“In The League (NBA) you’re kind of babied when it comes to small details. The travel is different now. Where you live is different. The basketball is the same.”

Thursday’s game against the Red Claws was his first start after coming off the bench in Idaho’s three previous games. He had 14 points by halftime and finished with a game-high 25 in the 105-99 loss.

He went one-on-one with Tiny Gallon, showing the talented rookie in flashes how the game is played in The League. He drove the lane for an easy lay-in as he’s done many times before.

“He looked rusty,” said Jamie Vosmus of Portland, sitting at courtside with the green tinted hair and wearing a Celtics shirt with No. 8 on the back. “Bought it back in 2000. I knew exactly where it was.”

Vosmus and his buddy, David Smith, hoped Walker would make it back but didn’t see it happening soon.

“You can do all the drills in the world but you’ve got to play to get your timing. I think it will come,” Walker said.

Some won’t forget or forgive a man who had riches in his pockets until gambling and generosity burned holes. No one to blame but himself.

He watched Paul Pierce and the Celtics beat New York the other night. He doesn’t know if can see himself on that big stage again. But he can try.

He is the Celtics player who verbally slapped Pierce and the rest of the team upside the head one unforgettable day in May 2002. Trailing by 21 points to Jason Kidd and the New Jersey Nets in the playoffs, the Celtics went on a 41-16 tear in the fourth quarter to win, 94-90.

The TD Garden was bedlam. Everyone was on their feet. Up in a skybox, Derek Lowe stood with Nomar Garciaparra and Johnny Damon and became a cheerleader.

When the final horn sounded, Walker jumped on the scorer’s table and wiggled. That’s the Antoine Walker you remember.

Livingston, the Idaho coach who was on the Red Claws’ coaching staff last year, thinks of out-of-work veterans who sit by the phone, waiting for it to ring. Walker didn’t wait.

“If you work hard and have got some talent, you’ll be rewarded,” said Livingston. “He wants to prove to himself he still can play.”

And hope someone notices.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

[email protected]