- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2016

John Wall’s facial expression stayed flat when emcee Dave Johnson said his name, lauding him in front of a room not accustomed to being so packed on a Thursday afternoon. Assembled on a multi-colored mat were a number of kids who are helped by Bright Beginnings, Inc. Television cameras were to the back. Wall sat up front, blue shirt buttoned to the top, two seats from Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis.

When Leonsis spoke, Wall cracked.

“I’m often introduced as owning the Washington Wizards,” Leonsis said. “Truthfully, John really owns the Washington Wizards.”

Wall smirked and shook his head at Leonsis‘ suggestion. Of course, this assertion is incorrect, but empirically, the organization, the city, are becoming more entrenched with Wall’s mission and vice versa. That’s a large part of the reason he was at Bright Beginnings to receive the NBA Cares Community Assist Award on Thursday.

Wall was “shocked” when he found out he won. Much of the voting was done through social media, where Wall has 1.65 million followers on Twitter and another 2.2 million on Instagram. He also leveraged some celebrity fans to help his cause. He was up against other big names like the New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony, hence the surprise.

His mother, Frances Pulley, was in the front row. Two of his sisters were in attendance. What is becoming an extended family of staffers at Bright Beginnings filled the room, cheering with a high-pitched enthusiasm. It was a day for Wall, 25 years old and heading toward his seventh NBA season, to think about the charity that serves children whose families live in shelters or transitional housing and provides childcare and educational services.

It was also a time to remember some of the mayhem he saw as a kid in Raleigh, North Carolina, where there were no cameras, no one shouting his name, no basketball and life legacy under development.

“If you put clothes on the back of your little hangars outside, somebody’s going to snatch them if it’s night time,” Wall said. “I’ve seen little kids take people’s groceries off a bike and ride it home. Just seeing people homeless … I don’t like to see it. I don’t know why they got there or what the situation [is]. But, if it’s kids in those situations, it’s kind of tough.”

The NBA and a sponsor donated $25,000 to the John Wall Foundation, which he gave to Bright Beginnings for a new playground in Ward 8. Wall matched that with his own $25,000 donation for a charity in Raleigh, which he will select at a later date. Leonsis also added $25,000.

There was also basketball to talk about. Wall ended arguably his best pro season by watching the Wizards‘ last five games from the bench because of a swollen knee. He had two surgeries on May 5: a procedure to excise calcific deposits in his left patella tendon in order to eliminate pain and help healing, plus an arthroscopic lavage on his right knee in order to remove loose bodies.

He’s in physical therapy twice a day for around three hours. At this point, he’s waiting for the swelling to go down before moving to any athletic activities. After consulting with two doctors, Wall opted for the surgery he had hoped to avoid.

“I just wanted to feel like myself,” Wall said. “Playing with this the last three years and it getting worse and worse and hurting. It was time for me to come back healthy.”

Wall said the rehabilitation is going well. Leonsis said Wall should be healthy for training camp.

“I’m in no rush,” Wall said. “It’s a long summer. Training camp’s important to me, preseason’s important. But, my health is more important for the regular season. I’m going to take as much time as I need to.”

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