The Journey of John: Wall’s All-Star Shines Bright | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

The Journey of John: Wall’s All-Star Shines Bright

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Updated: February 27, 2015

John Wall, All Star, Washington Wizards, New York City, Game, Truth About It, NBA, kyle lowry, jimmy butler, carmelo anthony, chris bosh

When the Washington Wizards removed the Gilbert Arenas banners from the side of the Verizon Center in January 2010, it signaled the end of the Agent Zero era. From where that scene occurred in D.C.’s Chinatown, you can take the Metro rail two stops to Union Station and then an Amtrak train up to New York City. I did, heading north for All-Star Weekend 2015.

The eyes of anyone exiting Penn Station on Sunday, February 15, were immediately met by a banner of John Wall, Washington Wizard. Another gigantic Wall motif was draped over the side of Madison Square Garden next door.

This view kept a humble Wizards blogger warm, and awestruck, through the frigid outside temperatures. The emotions of this moment were intoxicating because the signage symbolized not only Wall arriving on the national professional basketball stage but also a return to the same place where Johnathan Hildred Wall Jr.’s Wizards journey began.

On June 24, 2010, this Raleigh native walked across the MSG theater stage as the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. The next day, in Washington, D.C., the Kentucky star was presented with a plaque, and then-Mayor Adrian Fenty proclaimed June 25 “John Wall Day.” A red carpet was literally laid out for him as he entered the Verizon Center to adoring fans screaming his name.

At the event, a video was shown of local sports stars, politicians, dignitaries, and Wizards team staff doing Wall’s famous dance, welcoming him to the nation’s capital. Then-coach Flip Saunders declared him a “point guard from heaven” and compared Wall to Gary Payton. The entire D.C. basketball community was thirsty for a franchise savior. The 19-year-old kid had to be it.

The 2000s brought a few sugar highs for pro basketball fans in Washington, but the decade was mostly full of disappointment.

Michael Jordan’s leadership failures, the Big Three what-ifs, Arenas’ knee injuries, Damon F-n Jones, trading away a shot at drafting Stephen Curry, the lost interim coaching season of Ed Tapscott, the Kwame Brown debacle, Abe Pollin’s death, and “pick one” all brought discomfort to Wizards fans throughout the aughts.

Could Wall make this all go away? An unfair but nevertheless omnipresent question in the summer of 2010.

Wall began his NBA adventure as a fast-talking rookie with an ugly jump shot and poor eating habits. He had expectations longer than the Rock Creek Park trails placed upon him. But Wall instantly showed he deserved the hype. His speed was jaw-dropping. He put up numbers that compared to Oscar Robertson and entertained the fans with dances and big-time plays. But he couldn’t immediately cure the Wizards of their futile ways. He got stiffed out of a deserving NBA Rookie of the Year award because of  a technicality: Blake Griffin had sat out his first season due to injury and was eligible for the award in Wall’s class.

The 2011 NBA lockout meant that Wall’s second season, like the seasons of every other player, began late. The team’s struggles continued and his individual development stalled—he could only go Mach 1, the shaky jumper kept wobbling, and his sulking on defense became troubling. A dismal 2-15 start led to the firing of Flip Saunders.

Critics pounced on Wall’s early sophomore slump. The “coach killer” and “bust” labels were eagerly thrown around by media pundits who revel in throwing darts at young athletes.

Wall’s supporting cast did not help. The foils of Captain ‘Dray, JaVale McGee (a regular on “Shaqtin’ A Fool”), and Nick “Contract Year” Young, dragged him down on the basketball court. The 2011 draft class provided little assistance. The Wizards, even with Wall, were still losers. The perception that he could not make his teammates better was becoming permanent. But under the guide of Coach Randy Wittman, Wall slowly turned it around and bought into a defense-first approach.

Adversity struck again before Wall’s third season. In the fall of 2012, Wall was diagnosed with a stress injury in his left knee and missed the first few months of action. Without Wall, Washington bottomed out at 5-28. The “Game Changer” was so overlooked that Ed Davis was included in ESPN’s top 25 under 25 over him. There were whispers that Wall might be shut down for the entire season.

Instead Wall worked hard to return to the court. After missing the season’s first 33 games, he made his debut on January 12, 2013. His impact was electrifying.

All the hard work John had put into improving his jumper, pushed and coached up by then-assistant Sam Cassell, was on display. Late that March, Wall dropped a 47 piece on Memphis. The victories tallied up and Washington became a legit NBA team at home. They finished out the 2012-13 season with a 24-25 record with Wall.

Although he displayed significant strides, the carping class continued their assault on Wall. Michael Jordan’s agent and one-time Pollin nemesis, David Falk, ripped his ability; Stan Van Gundy declared him not worthy of a franchise label; several unnamed NBA executives echoed Van Gundy’s arguments; and a Washington Post columnist, Jason Reid, questioned the judgement of giving Wall a max contract because of his decisions to get tattoos. Seriously.

Wall’s next-level coming-out party transpired in 2013-14 season. He led the NBA in total assists, knocked down 108 3-pointers, participated in his first All-Star game, and won the Slam Dunk Contest. Most importantly, he finally delivered somewhat on those lofty team expectations, leading Washington to their first playoff appearance, and series victory, since 2005.

That brings us back to Valentine’s Day weekend in the Big Apple. Wall’s Wizards currently sit in fifth place in the Eastern Conference at 33-25. Wall is propping up one of the best seasons in franchise history, even considering the team’s recent backslide. He is unselfish, a leader, and has become a nightly highlight Vine machine. The Wizards might not be championship material yet, but this is not because of Wall’s shortcomings. According to WAR (Wins Above Replacement), he is currently the fourth most valuable player in the entire league.

But a touching, very public moment that demonstrated Wall’s relationship with a little girl named Miyah showed a suddenly interested national audience that this was a player to root for. Last spring, he had gotten close to the adorable six year old, who was fighting a rare form of cancer. He helped arrange a meeting with pop star Nicki Minaj.

After he balled out in a double-overtime home victory over Boston on December 8, 2014, Wall broke down in a post game interview when discussing his little buddy. She had lost her battle the day prior. Wall’s heartfelt reaction showed a side of humanity that people want to believe their sports stars genuinely possess. This goodwill helped catapult him as one of top vote-getters in the All-Star balloting, which won him a starting gig.

His elevated status was apparent throughout the New York City weekend. Wall’s All-Star merchandise was featured at the stores of both the Barclays Center and the Garden, the two venues that split the weekend’s festivities. On multiple occasions, I witnessed dads asking NBA store employees for kid-sized Wall stuff. Wizards Wall gear was spotted in crowds of both of the arenas as well.

Wall was a busy man during NYC’s All-Star Weekend circus. His itinerary included playing the NBA2K15 video game, the All-Star Weekend Fashion Show, a Kanye West ‘fashion’ event, the NBA Fit Day of Service, along with an adidas store and a State Farm appearance. He also recorded a funny interview with a popular NY DJ and beat Steph Curry, the eventual 3-point shootout champ, in a game of H-O-R-S-E.

He spent Saturday night holding court with his University of Kentucky bros Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, and Brandon Knight. And he gave Victor Oladipo advice on his slams.

Before Sunday’s prime-time game, Wall collaborated with fellow Eastern Conference point guards Kyle Lowry and Jeff Teague on the type of oops they were going to toss. During warm-ups, Wall joked with Russell Westbrook about his “shooter” celebration.

The All-Star game itself started slow and most of the players looked hungover, except for Wall, LeBron James and James Harden. John scored six early points with a nice dunk and a crossover. His most memorable play of the evening was a sick lob pass he threw up that unfortunately never became a highlight because LeBron missed the dunk. It was a surreal encounter to see him alternate trips down the court in the second half, with Beyoncé, Jay-Z, and Rihanna on one side, and with President Bill Clinton, Kareem, and Dr. J on the other.

Wall was bestowed the honor of finishing out the game. Quite a reversal from being cut from Team USA six months ago.

The East squad came up short versus the West, 163-158. During the MVP presentation to OKC’s Russell Westbrook, Wall spent the entire time chatting up an engaged Kevin Durant. I could not resist envisioning their possible pairing one day.

There is no longer the need to use “coming out” for Wall anymore, because Sunday night inside the Mecca of basketball proved that D.C.’s superstar has already arrived.

All-Star Weekend from My POV.

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Adam McGinnis
Reporter / Writer / Media at TAI
Adam is a bro from the Midwest who's been bopping around the District of Columbia for years. He's down with a range of sports, etc. and has covered the Washington Wizards for TAI since 2010.