808s and Bold Takes Issue 32: John Wall has been traded, and everything is worse now
Thoughts on the trade of the Wizards franchise player and why this matters beyond just wins and losses
I didn’t know it at the time, but I witnessed the highest point of the John Wall era in person. It was 2017, and the Wizards were playing in the second round of Game Six against the Celtics. The two teams were intense rivals at the time, the series had seen a great deal of trash talk and even a fight. Washington was facing elimination, and with just a few seconds remaining, they were down by two.
Wall, not known at all for his shooting prowess, stepped up confidently into a contested three-pointer, and when the ball hit nothing but net, Capital One Arena erupted. After Boston’s final shot missed, Wall leapt onto the scorer’s table in pure elation, having forced a deciding Game Seven. He screamed, not at, but with the fans. In that moment, the Wizards were his team and D.C. was his city.
Wizards fans know why that moment is the peak of the John Wall era. In that deciding game, Washington would lose, and they’d never make it back. Two years later, Wall tore his Achilles tendon after falling in the shower, an injury that put him out of commission for two years. When he returns, it won’t be for the Wizards, who traded him to the Houston Rockets.
From the outside looking in, it must seem weird how people are celebrating a player who never made it past the second round, hadn’t played for two years, and whose defining moment came in a series his team would lose. But that’s why it’s from the outside looking in, because this matters more than wins and losses, salary cap implications, or who got the better return.
It’s bigger than that.
Because to Wizards fans? John Wall was ours. He was the Point God, the Wall-Star, Optimus Dimes, the savior of the team after a gun scandal ripped it apart.
For me and so many other Wizards fans, John Wall was the player who made us love basketball. We’d go out into the driveaway and pretend to burst to the rim and throw down a thunderous left-hand dunk. Or we’d pretend to whip a perfect pocket pass through a mass of bodies to an open three-point shooter. Or we’d pretend to finish through contact and then flex our biceps and mean-mug to an imaginary camera.
When I think about Wall, I’ll remember how he took this team back to the playoffs in 2014 and won its first playoff series in nine years. I’ll remember how he played through a broken hand against Atlanta. I’ll remember that despite being a righty, he almost always dunked with his left hand. I’ll remember that there was nothing more fun to watch in basketball than him in the open court.
I’ll remember how he embraced this city and this region in a way that so many athletes didn’t. I’ll remember his postgame interview after Miyah Telemaque-Nelson, a girl with cancer who he befriended, died. I’ll remember his tears, the tears of a man has tried every day to help those less fortunate than him.
John Wall’s off-the-court impact on D.C. can’t be overstated. Even now, his foundation is helping those hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic by providing over a quarter-million dollars for rent assistance to families in Southeast Washington. Five years ago he donated $400,000 to a local organization to educate homeless children in the city.
He gave everything he had to this city, both on and off the court. He wasn’t perfect, nobody is, but he was one of those forces of nature. He’s my favorite basketball player, for all the reasons listed and more, and he’ll always have a special place in this city.
So when people ask why Wizards fans are so upset about trading a guy that hasn’t played in two years, it’s because he was special. He meant everything to us, lifting up a team that didn’t deserve him, empowering a fanbase that for so long had just felt lost.
This city will always love him. This fanbase will always love him. I will always love him, and I’ll always remember him standing on that scorer’s table, loving us with the same intensity.