Fifteen years ago today, Kelenna Azubuike made his Golden State Warriors debut in a win over the Charlotte Hornets. While his NBA career was cut short by a devastating freak injury less than three years later, a broadcasting career was born that night.
Azubuike was the first “Gatorade Call-Up” of the 2006-7 NBA season, after leading the NBA Developmental League (later the G League) in scoring for the Fort Worth Flyers. He shot nearly 50% from three-point range, something that Don Nelson really liked. While Kelenna scored just four points in his debut, he was in the starting lineup the next night.
Nellie loved Azubuike’s shooting and athleticism, but mostly he hated Mike Dunleavy Jr. The team’s future vice president of basketball operations was sent to the bench, while Nelson openly talked about how much happier he and Junior would be if he went and played for his dad’s Clippers. After the blockbuster trade that sent Dunleavy and Troy Murphy to Indiana, Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington soaked up many of Azubuike’s minutes, and he played sparingly in the team’s playoff run.
Azubuike played 81 games in 2007-8 for the Dubs, averaging 8.5 points. And he threw down a lot of spectacular dunks.
After the Warriors matched a multi-year contract offer from the Clippers in the summer of 2008 - perhaps out of anger about the Baron Davis signing - Azubuike started nearly the entire 2008-9 season, averaging 14.4 points per game and making 44.8% of his three-pointers. He was having a stellar offensive season in 2009-10 before he ruptured his patella tendon in a game against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The injury, plus a botched surgery that left his kneecap up against his quadriceps, ultimately ended his NBA career. Golden State included him in the David Lee trade in 2010, but he didn’t play a game for the New York Knicks. The most notable thing Azubuike did as a Knick was sell his No. 7 jersey to Carmelo Anthony.
"3 grand, that's it?"— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) December 19, 2019
Kelenna tells the story of Melo buying his jersey off him on the Knicks pic.twitter.com/mVUEl6LATm
After a stint at Syracuse’s Sportscaster U and a recommendation from Warriors broadcaster Jim Barnett, Azubuike became the color commentator we all know and love. But when you’ve fought your way into the league as an undrafted D-Leaguer and rehabilitated a bad knee for years, dealing with Bob Fitzgerald on a nightly basis is no big deal.