- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 3, 2020

As recently as last week at a charity event in the District, John Wall expressed gratitude for Wizards fans. The town welcomed him, he said, when he was a “kid that had no facial hair at 19 years old” and stuck with him through highs and lows. 

But still there were signs that Wall, now 30 with a thick beard and a decade of NBA experience, sounded like a man with Washington already in his rear-view mirror.

Whenever he referred to the Wizards, Wall used the pronoun “they,” not “we.”

He repeatedly said “no comment” when asked about the reports he wanted out.

Then on Wednesday, the divorce finally happened: Wall was traded to the Houston Rockets for Russell Westbrook.

Rumors turned into reality — a disappointing reality, for some Wall fans.

The Wall-for-Westbrook trade is likely an upgrade for the Wizards. Wall is coming off a major Achilles tendon injury, while Westbrook was named to one of the league’s All-NBA teams last season, an award only 15 players earn. But the trade also officially ends the Wall era in Washington, a period that began with so much promise and ended with more futility.

Even with a healthy Wall, the franchise couldn’t get break 50 wins a year. 

But for an organization that was in shambles from a gun-in-the-locker-room controversy that happened just months before he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2010 out of Kentucky, Wall was a bright spot.

He danced unabashedly before games, much to the chagrin of a certain national radio host. He dazzled on the court with explosive speed and extraordinary vision.

He gave Wizards fans unforgettable moments — like when he jumped on the scorer’s table minutes after hitting the game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds to force a Game 7 against the Boston Celtics in the 2017 playoffs. From atop that table, Wall pounded his chest and yelled that the District was his city — and the city embraced him right back.

“From a young rookie to an All-Star, I did my best to make you proud,” the North Carolina native tweeted this week in a message to his adopted hometown of Washington. “Through good times like that Game 6 versus Boston, through injuries & rehab, I always felt the love from you. I appreciate you and will ALWAYS have love for DC.

“I may not wear the jersey anyone but I will never forget what it meant to represent for y’all.”

Wall’s low points were hard to ignore, particularly when the injuries started to pile up. After undergoing season-ending heel surgery in 2018, he tore his Achilles on a trip to the shower — a setback that ultimately paved the way for his departure. 

There were other off-the-court controversies, most recently when he was seen throwing up gang signs in a video of him partying. Wall apologized, but The Athletic reported the incident was a factor in the trade.

Still, it would be difficult to find someone to say that Wall didn’t care about the District. Wall’s charity work was well known, helping fund programs that helped lower-income residents on the Southeast side avoid eviction. He helped provide hundreds, if not thousands of meals, with his annual Thanksgiving food giveaway.

He also provided the city with success on the court — something the franchise had largely been missing over decades. Wall was born in 1990, but until he joined the Wizards, the franchise had won just one playoff series in his lifetime. Washington had just five postseason appearances in that span, too.

But with Wall, Washington had four playoff trips — advancing past the first round in three of those years. Wall played well in each series, even gutting through a broken hand in 2015 against the Atlanta Hawks.

When Wall signed his supermax extension in 2017 — a four-year, $170 million contract — he recorded a video to break the news on social media. In the clip, a shirtless Wall stares directly into the camera and declares that he’s going to bring the District a championship.

“Y’all know I wasn’t going nowhere,” Wall said into the camera. “You know where I want to be. I love being in D.C.”

The Wizards never got close to title contention. Certainly not after Wall’s megadeal.

Wall’s injuries aside, the Wizards didn’t have the cap room or the assets to add the right pieces around Wall and Bradley Beal. The Wall-era Wizards made too many mistakes off the court to succeed on the court. A busy offseason in 2016 resulted in disastrous contracts that set the franchise back. The team missed on the sixth pick in 2011, drafting Jan Vesely instead of Kawhi Leonard or Klay Thompson.

In some ways, it was only fitting for Wall to be traded for Westbrook. The two each signed largely the same contract that was praised in the moment, only for the deal to be regarded as an albatross later on. The major difference, beyond the injury history, was that Westbrook had already been once cast aside by the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Wall now heads to Houston to try and reclaim his standing as one of the best guards in the NBA. The 30-year-old has said he’s been motivated by the skeptics who think his best days are behind him. Wall is trying to have a few more memorable years.

They’re unlikely, however, to be as memorable as his time in the District.


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