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John Wall: ‘We made it’


Basketball saved John Wall’s life.

I mean, how else do you portray the end result of a childhood that was marred by not only a dearth of parental guidance, but also exposure to the wretched living conditions of North Carolina’s capital city?

The loss of his father; the mean streets of Sherrybrook Drive; the elusive glimpses of his mother as she worked three to four jobs to keep her kids fed certainly inflicted an ill-mannered attitude in John. The type of attitude that made him too intractable for coaches to handle and a behavior that led to the dismissal from multiple youth basketball programs.

But while the harsh tribulations dealt to young Jonathan Hildred could have easily warped him into a life of continued savagery and ruthlessness, John’s inevitable self-recognition helped him reject despondence, regain composure, and ultimately remain attached to his lifelong love of basketball.

/end despairing introduction.

This column, after all, was instead brainstormed to be a celebratory one infused with pixelated confetti. It is, however, useful to expose Wall’s past simply to render an idea of the uneasy and troublesome path that he’s followed up until his most recent professional career milestone: becoming an NBA All-Star.

Ok, I lied. Real quick, flash rewind to when John Wall first stepped on to the public scene at the Reebok International as a mohawk’d 17-year old high school sophomore. Upon his arrival, he was deluged with several choice adjectives from scouts and college coaches alike:

“Unknown, skinny, wiry,” were a few of them, per Brian Lee, director of basketball at the Reebok International.

But upon conclusion of the popular summer camp, those same words would verily be swallowed by an unprecedented showmanship of blazing coast-to-coast speed, extravagant high-flying dunks, and a sense of poise and determination that stimulated John Calipari’s basketball hormones to the brink of public ejaculation.

“He dominated physically, mentally, scoring, defense, blocking shots. That’s when everybody got to say, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re talking a 6’4 point guard that can dunk over your center’” – Coach Cal

Now, flash forward past the rest of the youth camp dominations, the one-and-done career at Kentucky, becoming the Wizards’ #1 overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft and Dougie’ing his way into the NBA limelight. Skip through the exhibit of relentless roasting and scrutiny from fans, writers and critics. Oh, but here, read a quick sample:

“He’s too fast for his own good.”

“His court vision is subpar.”

“Look what Chris Paul is doing.”

“Why isn’t he as good as Kyrie?”

“Ugh, tattoos on his torso?! Write him off, NOW.”

Of course, might I recall the belligerent miseducation of one David Falk, the NBA’s crème de la crème top-dawg agent when he said, “John Wall will never be as good as Kyrie Irving was in his first week in the NBA.”

This brings us to the John Wall of present; the John Wall who has silenced his detractors down to a mouse’s squeak; the John Wall whom when his prowess is arbitrarily questioned by posers, he responds not verbally, but operatively.

“…that comes with the territory of being a professional athlete. I just use all those things as motivation to try and get better and keep improving myself.”

Now after three seasons, John Wall’s first-time induction to into the NBA’s official class of stardom has joined him with a band of favorable players who also took their time earning this particular accolade: Ray Allen, Steve Nash, Gary Payton, and GILBERT ARENAS among few others.

You may want to recall this blurb from GP at last year’s All-Star festivities in Houston. Payton dismissed all notions that John Wall will never be a franchise player and also mentioned that Wall reminded him a lot of, well, Gary Payton.

[jump to 6:25 for remarks about Wall]

All-Star acclamation can serve as a critically sharp turning point in an NBA player’s career. It dons them with relevance and showers them with adoration. It serves them warranted entitlement and grants them a newfound sense of leadership. But above all, for John Wall particularly, it motivates him.

It’s evident that no one kicks John Wall’s ass more than himself. You see it by way of every resilient performance. You hear it during every post-game interview. His coach gloats about it time and again. Last week, when Wall bounced back to beat the Suns in Phoenix after a dismal shooting night against the Celtics the game before, Randy Wittman candidly stated: “That’s why I love the kid. The kid’s got the heart of a lion.”

The prized All-Star selection is merely a wedge of the surging development we’ve witnessed in John Wall this season. Wall’s max signing, his consistent health, combined with his career highs in points and assists have been the driving forces which led to his All-Star status. Oh, and I imagine a vast increase in his team’s wins got him some brownie points as well.

Wall’s humility shone blindly when he phoned his mother to reveal the dramatic news. For that one moment with his mother on the other end, half a lifetime barraged with tumult and adversity, hardship and grief was immediately subdued with the first words that tearfully came out of his mouth..

“We made it.”

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