John Wall has ambitions to be the greatest PG in the game.
I originally wrote this article in the cover story of the 136th edition (2014 - No. 15) of SLAM China Magazine, and republished in it's original English form for SLAMOnline.com on September 24, 2014. Here is another look at the feature.
With the intentions of making the Wall a muse to inspire legends of the future, adidas brought Wizards’ All-Star guard John Wall to China’s famous monument. Wall visited the Juyongguan section of the Great Wall in mid-August, climbing the structure for promotional events that included debuting his new shoes and watching dunk and three-point contests at a temporary court built up at the Wall.
Yet, despite the history and tradition around him, Wall would’ve probably rather not been there—or at least, hoped to postpone his visit a little. A few weeks before his visit, Wall was among the group of names cut from Team USA for the Basketball World Cup. So, while the rest of the squad headed to Spain for more international basketball, Wall found himself venturing across global borders in a different way, with the summertime visit to China.
After his best season yet, Wall had reason to feel slighted for the cut; finally having a full season where he was blessed with both good health and the right balances of depth, experience and talent in his team, he helped the Wizards take their much awaited big step forward last year. Individually, he averaged career-highs in points (19.3 ppg), assists (8.8 apg—tied for second the League), steals (1.8 spg), free-throw percentage and three-point percentage. He helped carry the Wizards to their first playoff appearance since 2008 and their first series win since 2005. ‘The next’ had become ‘the now.’
Climbing up the Great Wall of China may sometimes feel like climbing up a stairway across heaven. At the tallest dizzying heights, the Wall dips down and climbs back up again. It takes an individual with the heartiest of abilities to handle the grueling ebb and flow of this magnificent structure across the steepest parts of the Wall.
John Wall’s young career has already experienced its highs and lows, and as he aims for even greater heights, he climbs on with the expectation of more swings ahead, swings between elation and disappointment, success and failure. But just like he climbed a part of the Great Wall in China, John Wall has also climbed past mental and physical walls in his career to get near the top: now, he will battle all comers to make sure that he stays there.
John Wall: This is my first time here. It’s a great experience to have an event up here. It’s very exciting to be at a legendary and traditional spot that everybody would like to visit when they come to China. I’m happy to have the opportunity to come here with my new logo which is coming out in October. It’s nice to be here with Team adidas and have fun.
SLAM: Growing up, could you have imagined that the game of basketball could provide you with some of the most interesting experiences in the world?
JW: Nah, I just thank God every day. It’s truly a blessing that he blessed me with the talents and the abilities that I have. And I have a Mom that was dedicated to making sure that I had a better life. I’m just a humble, hungry kid from Raleigh, NC, living out a dream: trying to be the greatest point guard to ever play the game. It’s fun, it’s exciting. There are a lot of different experiments and journeys you got to take in life, and I like the way that my career and my legacy are going so far.
SLAM: Last year was a major step forward for yourself and your team. Was there a moment when things finally clicked for you?
JW: I give a lot of credit for the two veteran guys we had: Trevor Ariza and Al Harrington. We started off like 2-9 or something like that, and we wanted to come out and have a better start. That’s not the way to start to make a playoff run. We just had a team meeting, and they told me that I had to be the leader of our team. They kinda made me step up in front of everybody. I had to look everybody in the eye and told them what their role was: If you don’t accept it, we don’t want you to be part of the team; if you accept it, you can come along. Ever since that day I knew that I was the main guy on the team and they were going to go as far as I took them.
JW: Just walking out on that first night in that game in Chicago. It was very exciting. The fans were going crazy. Every play meant something. Everybody was yelling, screaming. I had never been in the Playoffs, and then to go out there and get the first win, and then winning a playoff series for the first time, it was a great accomplishment for me. My biggest goal now is, I know what it takes to get there. I know how much better I have to get as a player and my goal now is to get to the Finals.
SLAM: How important has it been to add a veteran champion like Paul Pierce to the mix?
JW: He’s just a great veteran and he’ll bring great leadership presence. He knows how to win games. He’s a guy that’s been to the places that I wanna go; winning the NBA Championship. That’s my biggest goal. I’ve made the Playoffs, now my goal is to bring a Championship to DC. That’s something I’ve always preached. That’s what I’m all about.
SLAM: Looking forward to next season…Like we climbed the Wall today, what sort of physical or mental walls do you hope to climb to get better?
JW: Just improve every aspect of my game. I’m trying to be the best point guard of the League next year and lead my team to the Finals. So I need to be taking care of my body, not being injured and definitely being in better shape so I can play both ends of the court like I did in the Playoffs, in the way I was committed on the defensive end, just trying to lead my team and not worry about points or things like that. It lets me know that I can do a lot of other things to help my team win other than just scoring.
Wall: I feel like we are all in the same boat right now. Everybody has to build their chemistry up after adding their different pieces. Everybody has their own superstars on their team. I feel like we can be one of the best teams in the East. That’s my goal: to be a leader, as a point guard. If I want to lead my team to the Finals, I have to be the best point guard in the Eastern Conference.
SLAM: Over the last few seasons, how has your mental approach toward the game changed or matured?
Wall: It’s matured a whole lot. Dealing with injuries early on in my career, I began to watch a lot of film. I studied the game while I was injured and watched my team play. I spent time seeing different aspects in the areas where I can improve my team, and help me improve my game, doing little things to get better while I couldn’t play.
SLAM: You’re one of the fastest players in the NBA. Explain the process of decision-making at such speeds: Is it your brain catching up with your body, or your body catching up with your brain?
Wall: With me, it’s more just…I can read defenses early. I know how defenses are guarding me or where the help is coming from. So it’s just about tightening my handle. Sometimes I lose the ball: Guys stick their hand in and poke it away. [I work on] making the read: You might be playing against a great defender that night that could be quicker than you. There are little careless things like jumping in the air and making passes, trying to make the home-run play rather than the basic play. That’s just coming from the time I’ve spent studying film. That’s what I do in my off time, I try to watch basketball 24/7.
SLAM: You were cut from Team USA a few weeks ago. Do you think that you will use that as fuel for next season going out against everybody else?
Wall: It’s funny… Anything bad that has happened to me, like people criticizing me, or getting cut from a team, I’m never gonna say bad about the situation or talk bad about the person. I just put a sticker or note in my phone or my refrigerator, and I use it as motivation. So that motivates me even more, and for the guys who are making it over me, I have to prove them wrong.