John Wall, as good off the court as he is on it

by Donal Ware

It was June 24, 2010 and the Washington Wizards had just drafted John Wall from Kentucky with the number one overall pick.

I was ecstatic.

Even though I live in North Carolina, I am originally from Silver Spring, Md. – cross over Eastern Avenue off Georgia Avenue and your in DC – and grew up a Bullets/Wizards fan. I was too young to remember when the then Bullets won their last NBA championship in 1978.

What I do remember about the franchise is those lean years in the late ‘80’s through the mid-90’s when the Bullets were absolutely horrible. I remember when the great Bernard King played for the Bullets but essentially had no help.

I remember the playoff drought for six seasons from the late ‘90s to the mid-2000’s and when THE Michael Jordan became part-owner/director of basketball operations and then came out of retirement as a player for the team that by that time had changed its name to the Wizards. The experiment seemed like a disaster, but in the long run turned out to be a blessing, even though Jordan was unceremoniously shown the door.

There were some good times. A  Raleigh to Bullets/Wizards connection that led to an optimistic time came when the Bullets drafted Tom Gugliotta out of NC state in the 1992 NBA Draft. Googs played two full seasons for the Bullets before being traded to Golden State in exchange for Chris Webber. The Bullets had drafted Juwan Howard and Rasheed Wallace before that and with the addition of Webber and point guard Rod Strickland, the Wizards had a really good 1996-97 season making it to the playoffs and giving the Jordan-led Bulls a run for their money in the first round.

Webber and Howard couldn’t handle Washington and that promising team ultimately fizzled. There were some good runs with Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes and Antawn Jamison in the mid-to-late 2000’s, but those runs ultimately fizzled as well.

Back to June 24, 2010. The Wizards had just come off two of the worst back-to-back seasons in franchise history. So the day after Wall was drafted, I ordered a combo, red Wizards t-shirt (which I still wear) and Wizards baseball cap.

I felt like our fortunes were going to change with Wall. It took a while as Wall fought through injuries his first few seasons in the league. By year four, the Wizards went from a 29-win team to a 44-win team and won a first-round playoff series in back-to-back seasons.

The Wizards have now made the playoffs and won first round series three of Wall’s seven years. They are a piece or two away from taking that next step to at least getting to the Eastern Conference finals.

This wasn’t supposed to be a history lesson or even about what Wall does on the court. But I might point out that he had career highs this past season in points (23.1), assists (10.7) and steals (2.0) on his way to being named All-NBA Third Team. I may be biased but he is the best pure point guard in the league. Tell me I’m wrong then tell me who’s better. He may be the third best two-way player in the league (Kawhi Leonard, Lebron James), yet was snubbed from the All-NBA Defensive Teams. Those points are open to conjecture.

What is not open to conjecture is what he does in the community. He’ll tell you it’s a blessing to play in the town where his father was born and raised. He also never forgot where he’s from; Southside Raleigh.

So when he was here in Raleigh on Saturday giving backpacks to 250 children and providing fun activities and food to the families of those children at The Salvation Army of Wake County, as he had done similarly the day before in Washington through his John Wall Family Foundation, I was absolutely elated to witness it. Let me reiterate, he was there and put all 250 book bags on the children’s backs and posed for pictures with them.

Everyone was so excited that the hometown hero had returned to the capital of North Carolina and was involved and giving back.

Remember, he won the Community Assist Award in 2016 for his charitable work in the community. If I were to list all of the charitable work he has done, we’d be here for a while.

Wall is only 26.

I have interviewed many famous people in my 12 years of hosting BOXTOROW. Even had Wall on the program back in 2014. But this time it was different. It was not about what he’d done on the court as much. It was more about the things he was doing off the court and the difference he was making in children in his hometown.

On Saturday, I was a fan of Wall’s, for what he was doing off the court.

Below is our exclusive one-on-one interview with Wall, granted by by the John Wall Family Foundation.

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