Walker Kessler explains the one thing teammates are trying to get him to stop doing, and why he doesn’t want his mom to know

While wrapping up his rookie season with the Utah Jazz, the affable big man delves into life off the court.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Team Deron's Walker Kessler (24) in the Jordan Rising Stars event as part of NBA All-Star Weekend, in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 17, 2023.

Walker Kessler the basketball player has been discussed and appraised and analyzed extensively this season.

So let’s learn a bit more about Walker Kessler the human being instead.

“That’s my favorite person, man!” the 7-foot-1, 21-year-old replies enthusiastically and self-deprecatingly.

His sense of humor is as good a place to start as any, considering if you ask any of Kessler’s Utah Jazz teammates what he’s like, nearly every single one begins to laugh before getting even a single word out.

It’s apparently an appropriate reaction. While there is near-universal agreement that the rookie big man is expertly sarcastic and generally humorous, there’s also something of a debate within the team’s ranks about just how much of it is actually intentional.

“Almost like ‘The Office,’ you know what I mean?” replies Kris Dunn.

“He’s a hard worker, so it’s obviously good to share the court with him, but in the locker room, he’s an even better guy — throwing out those lame jokes and thinking he’s funny,” Lauri Markkanen adds with a smirk.

“He’s cool, man. Funny dude. Just laid-back,” responds Jordan Clarkson.

His jokes are actually funny, though?

“They’re so bad it’s funny,” JC concedes, cracking up. “He’s a character.”

Micah Potter, the two-way contract signee, and arguably Kessler’s best friend on the team, gets the final, definitive word.

“Oh, it’s unintentional,” Potter answers without a hint of doubt. “… Super-stupid humor!”

Kessler, hearing all of this, takes it in stride and chuckles about it, letting the light-hearted, good-natured critiques roll off of him.

Except for Markkanen’s. The onetime campaign manager will not let his All-Star client’s crack about “lame jokes” go without a retort.

“Oh, of course he’s gonna say that — he’s jealous he didn’t think of them first,” Kessler insists. “I don’t know why he’s saying that — he makes just as lame of jokes as me. He’s funny, but I don’t think he means to be sometimes.”

Still, Kessler’s teammates do have a point.

During his exit interview with media ahead of the home finale vs. Denver, Kessler was rapturously extolling the virtues of Waffle House — the primarily Southern-located breakfast chain restaurant that is also infamous for attracting dubious clientele — for the umpteenth time.

“I love Waffle House. We have one literally like a two-minute drive from my house [in Georgia]. They know my order when I walk in,” he concluded. “It’s Waffle Home, honestly.”

The bad joke/dad joke was met with a combination of laughter and eye-rolling groans.

Still, not every Jazz teammate defaulted to humor first when discussing Kessler’s personality.

Rudy Gay, the straightforward, quasi-cynical, longtime vet, was actually sentimental in response … right up until he invoked “Talladega Nights,” the Will Ferrell cult classic about an unintentionally funny stock-car driver.

“He’s a sweetheart, man. He really is. He’s just a very wholesome human being. A little too wholesome sometimes,” Gay said. “I don’t know how you can [change that]. I don’t know — lock him in a cage with a bobcat or something, like Ricky Bobby’s dad did. I don’t know.”

Regardless of if Gay is right or not about Kessler being too wholesome, he’s unquestionably correct about the first part.

Whether exemplified by him leaning into his nerdiness with an extensive discussion of his favorite video games, or endearingly revealing that his biggest fear during his rookie season was not guarding the likes of Joel Embiid, but navigating such basic tenets of adulthood as establishing a credit score, Walker Kessler is absolutely a sweetheart.

Mr. Nice Guy

The Walker Kessler Apology Tour became a season-long running gag after the Jazz’s very first game.

He had a fantastic debut, totaling 12 points (on 5-for-5 shooting) and 10 rebounds in a win over the Nuggets. But he was chagrined by an 0-for-2 performance at the stripe, prompting a hilarious assertion from head coach Will Hardy.

“He’s such a great kid — he apologized at the end of the game for his free throws,” the coach claimed.

Naturally, Kessler denied it, but the bit persisted throughout the remainder of the season — up to and including the head injury that cost the big man the final four games of the year.

“In typical Walker fashion, he apologized to me for having a concussion,” Hardy quipped.

It was clearly a joke, but it was still fun to ask Kessler about it in faux-earnest fashion, just to get the predictable exasperated, defensive reaction.

“No, I did not apologize! OK, I do apologize for a lot of things, I’ll give him that,” Kessler begins, before conceding his memory was a bit fuzzy about that night after taking an elbow to the head. “But, I mean, maybe I did. I don’t know. Who knows? Maybe I did. Who knows. But as far as I know, I didn’t.”

The funny thing is, it’s entirely conceivable that he would apologize for missing games on account of getting clocked. He really is that nice of a guy.

Some of his teammates are trying hard, though, to get him to resist the instinctual kindness at certain times.

“With him being from Atlanta, he’s someone that I know how he was raised — he’s a ‘Yes sir,’ ‘No sir’-type person, and he’s very respectful. At times, some [opponent] might fall down and he might go try to pick him up, and I’m like, ‘Yo, Walk — if they fall down, leave ‘em! Like, let’s go!’” Collin Sexton said. “But that’s just how he is — he’s a really nice person.”

Kessler confirms the story, a bit sheepishly.

“Yeah, he tells me not to. At the beginning of the year, I definitely would help people up, but I was told not to. So that was an adjustment. … My teammates would be slapping my hand away,” he said. “Don’t show my mom this — she probably would be like, ‘No, you can’t compromise yourself!’”

In spite of becoming an increasingly successful professional basketball player, and being praised by teammates and coaches alike for being so level-headed through it all, Kessler admits he is, in fact, sometimes roiling on the inside underneath that calm facade. Still, he concedes, the biggest adjustments of the past year have not had much to do with hoops.

Yes, the speed of the NBA was initially eye-opening and required some adjustment, but it’s the stuff outside the lines which has worried him the most.

“Off the court, you know, you [can] get a little overwhelmed,” Kessler said. “… There’s so much stuff off the court that you have to handle: Learning how to be an adult, paying your own bills — I never had a credit card or anything, so I didn’t have a credit score, so I had to work my credit score. Getting a car, buying a car, leasing, that part of it’s been a lot. … I haven’t really gotten into the investment side of things, so that’s gonna be a whole ‘nother deal, too.”

That’s what Waffle House is for, though, right?

Waffle Kessler

During a postgame chat in the locker room at one point during the season, the Atlanta native casually revealed to reporters that one of his life goals is to bring the first Waffle House franchise to Salt Lake City. The dream is still a distant one considering he’s on a rookie contract, and that franchise fees and start-up costs are estimated to be a combined $600,000 to $1 million.

“I’ve got to get my second contract first, I guess,” Kessler lamented.

Still, on myriad occasions throughout the season, he discussed how the restaurant is — or at least was — a central component of his social ritual.

And really, how could it not be?

“Listen, Waffle House is an experience — I can’t even tell you it’s a good experience, but it’s just an experience,” Kessler said. “For me, it was the best experience, but I’ve heard horror stories [from] other people. But I don’t think they understand, that’s part of the Waffle House. You’re gonna get someone who probably can beat everyone up in the store, but they’ll make some mean scrambled eggs, man.”

As for why it’s not a part of his day-to-day routine anymore (aside from there not being a location in Utah), well, that aforementioned food order the staff near his house knew to automatically make as soon as he walked in has everything to do with that.

It is egregious and horrifying and … kind of impressive?

• Six eggs, scrambled — with cheese.

• Two orders of hashbrowns, covered — which means with cheese.

• Grits — with cheese.

• White toast.

• Bacon and sausage.

• Plus two regular waffles.

“The quality of food I ate back then was probably not great, but I just had such a high metabolism,” Kessler said. “… It’s probably like a 4,000-calorie meal. It’s a feat. I couldn’t do it anymore.”

Couldn’t or isn’t allowed to?

Even with Hardy’s recent suggestion that young players should be OK to occasionally eat a cheeseburger rather than salmon and quinoa, surely that Waffle House order would prompt Jazz team chef Anthony Zamora to lose his mind.

“Honestly, he might be impressed by how much I could eat. But as far as the quality of food, no,” Kessler said. “I can’t imagine how many grams of fat it is. I mean, I don’t know — the protein-to-fat ratio is probably not great. But I needed some fat on me back then, so it was good for me.”

Other old pleasures “retired for right now” (in this case, by contractual terms) include wakeboarding, wakesurfing, jet skiing, and tubing on Lake Martin in Alabama, where his family has a place.

Unlike his uncles and cousins, he’s never been much of a fisherman, though he does enjoy just hanging out with them on a boat, particularly during night rides. Sometimes he just likes to chill out, sitting on the dock, listening to some music.

“That’s probably my happy place in the world,” Kessler said.

Music is important to him — he’s learned to play guitar, and the stuff he listens to is varied: “Sometimes it’ll be rap, sometimes it’ll be country/bluegrass, shoot, sometimes I’ll hop in the shower and play some violin instrumental stuff, Hans Zimmer, stuff like that.”

His defaults, though, are in the rock/punk/emo genres. His dad introduced him to the likes of AC/DC, The Cars, and Guns N’ Roses. His older brother got him into more pop-punk stuff, such as Blink-182.

Asked if he has a go-to pregame hype song, Kessler said there isn’t just one. Sometimes it’s “Icky Thump” by The White Stripes. Other days, it’s something by J. Cole. There are even times where he defaults to screamo band (emo music where the lyrics are, well, literally screamed) Dance Gavin Dance.

“They’re really good, but,” he says, trailing off, “I’d introduce you to some other stuff first.”

As for his favorite live shows, well …

“I’ve never been to a concert, actually. Never been to one!” Kessler said, acknowledging the disbelief. “I want to go. Chris Stapleton is one of my favorite artists — probably my favorite artist, honestly. And I think there’s one [of his shows] in Georgia this summer, so I’m gonna try to go to that one. That’ll be my first concert ever.”

Stapleton’s two shows at the Ameris Bank Amphitheatre in Alpharetta, Ga., are on Aug. 25-26.

While Kessler is accustomed to playing in packed arenas, the experience of being on the other side, among some 12,000 other people in the audience, will surely be a bit different from the big man’s usual hangouts.


Kessler’s lack of concert-going experience is perhaps a bit indicative of a slightly sheltered social life.

It can safely be said that while the Golden State Warriors once infamously zinged Utah for a lack of sufficient nightlife, Kessler has not found that to be a problem impacting him during his time here thus far.

He just might be a little more homebodyish than, say, Matt Barnes and Andre Iguodala.

“I’ve never been a club guy or something like that,” Kessler said. “Can you imagine me, like 7 foot, above everyone, just raving in the middle?”

It is an entertaining mental visual. But his claim checks out.

In his initial interview with Utah media after he was officially introduced as a member of the Jazz following the Rudy Gobert trade, Kessler unironically labeled himself “a pretty interesting guy,” before almost instantaneously conceding he was “a big nerd.” Lots of books (”Harry Potter,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Eragon”), which he attributed to being home-schooled for a year. Lots of pingpong, which he ascribes to his dad’s lifelong infatuation. And lots and lots and lots of video games, which he blames on a certain sibling.

“My brother, he was a big nerd too, so I kind of grew up watching him play ‘Legend of Zelda’ and all of these Nintendo games, a lot of RPG [role-playing game] stuff,” Kessler recalls. “And so, growing up, I had a Nintendo 64, played ‘Starfox’ on it, and then got a GameCube, played all the ‘Legend of Zelda’ games. So all that stuff — like a big, big nerd.”

That nerdiness never went away.

Kessler never got into MMOs [massively multiplayer online games] such as “League of Legends” or the like, but is a big fan of “very fantasy, RPG kind of games” — in particular, a series called ‘Dark Souls,’ by developer FromSoftware.

He and various Jazz teammates have also been known to have “Mario Kart” or “Super Smash Bros.” tournaments on their Nintendo Switches while flying across the country to their next game, and he fancies himself even better at those than at basketball.

“No one can really play with me — they say they’re good, and they actually start playing, and it’s like, yeah, no, they can’t play,” Kessler boasts.

Told that fellow Jazz center Damian Jones, who he hasn’t faced on the Switch yet, wants the smoke, Kessler lights up.

“I’m gonna have to play him on the way back and ask him if he’s got it,” the rookie said ahead of the season finale in Los Angeles.

Potter confirms Kessler’s braggadocio, noting that during some of their hangouts, he’s seen the rookie play and excel at the likes of “Minecraft,” the new “Harry Potter” game, “Spider-Man,” “God of War,” and so on and so on.

“Anything you can think of, he’ll play — and he’s good at it,” Potter said.

Still, the rookie’s social life does actually entail activities not involving a console or handheld gaming device.

Some of it is simple, solitary stuff. He likes sitting on his condo’s balcony and having a cup of coffee, observing the Utah weather. He still is thrilled by the snow, finding it unique and fun, while conceding he doesn’t have a driveway to shovel after a big storm. He also enjoys taking long drives, particularly through Parley’s Canyon up to Park City, because he enjoys the “pretty scenery.”

But he also likes being around others. He makes it a point to try new restaurants and, when he’s inevitably recognized, he’ll chat up the manager, because it’s a way of meeting people and “making relationships.” He’s also been known to hang out with Potter quite a bit, whether it’s spending a day exploring Summit County, just catching a movie, or … tagging along when Potter and his wife, Catherine Elle, go out.

“A lot of the time he’s third-wheeling, which is funny,” Potter said. “… I mean, she loves it.”

“I’ve done that a couple times,” Kessler admitted, laughing.

While Dunn praised the Jazz for hosting myriad events to get players and their families to bond off the court, Kessler has been endeavoring to facilitate even more player hang-outs — though he may have an ulterior motive.

He has a pingpong table at his place, and has floated the idea to several people about having a team-wide tournament. He’s been rebuffed thus far, with pretty much everyone telling him they’re simply not very good at it. He seems to harbor some suspicion, however, that there is widespread fear of his dominance.

“I’m pretty good. Not to pat myself on the back, but if basketball wasn’t mainstream and pingpong was, I’d quit basketball and pursue pingpong,” Kessler declared.

Meanwhile, that part about fear of his dominance leads him to circle back to the conversation about being too nice on the court and giving a hand to fallen opponents. He has a theory he’s keen to test in a bid to boost his bad-boy credentials.

“How disrespectful would it be if you block someone and they fall, and then you help ‘em up?” Kessler asks, seeking confirmation. “In its own right, that’s pretty disrespectful.”

Well … as disrespectful as a wholesome sweetheart is capable of, anyway.

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