- The Washington Times - Monday, February 15, 2021

As the clips flashed across the Jumbotron at Capital One Arena, John Wall couldn’t help but look up. 

Back in the District Monday for an NBA game for the first time since he was traded to the Houston Rockets in December, Wall glanced at the video board while in Houston‘s huddle, stealing looks at the screen as the Wizards honored their former point guard with a tribute video during a timeout in the first quarter.

The video was a testament to the impact the 30-year-old had on both the franchise and the city of Washington.

Wall, who scored 29 points and tallied 11 assists for the Rockets in Washington‘s 131-119 win, spent 10 seasons with the Wizards after he was drafted first overall in 2010. He holds the franchise’s all-time record in assists and steals and is fourth in scoring. Just about every memorable Wizards moment of the last decade belongs to the perennial All-Star.

For example, there was:

The Dougie

Wall’s selection generated tons of excitement — and the baby-faced rookie matched that hype by breaking out the Dougie in front of a sold-out crowd just before his first game. Wall shuffled his arms, twirled his hips and danced, all to cheers from those inside the Verizon Center. 

That dance, of course, didn’t sit well with everyone. Radio host Colin Cowherd called Wall “childish” and ripped the guard for the routine — and would do so repeatedly over the next few years.  

“Magic (Johnson) never would,” Cowherd said. “Point guard is like the quarterback. it’s an IQ-judgment position. The great ones are not about themselves. They’re about the others. Leadership is IQ, it’s not skills.”

But Wall’s dance was a sign of what was to come: The five-time All-Star would do things his way — with plenty of flair and style, to boot. The dance, too, didn’t stop Wall from being productive: He finished with 29 points, 13 assists and nine steals in Washington’s 116-115 overtime win over the Philadelphia 76ers. 

“It was fun, man,” Wall said. 

The 2014 Slam Dunk Contest 

At his peak, Wall was an athletic marvel. His speed changed games. He soared high and ferociously attacked the rim.  That combination of speed and power was on full display when Wall participated in the 2014 Slam Dunk Contest. 

Though that year’s contest drew criticism — the NBA experimented with a weird team format — few complained about Wall’s final dunk. Using Wizards mascot G-Wiz as part of the show, Wall got a running start before leaping up to grab the ball from G-Wiz’s hands and throw down a powerful reverse jam. Upon landing, Wall sprinted over to Indiana’s Paul George and the two danced in celebration. 

Wall’s highlight was part of the guard’s overall ascension that year as one of the game’s top players. A day later, Wall participated in his first All-Star game. That same season, the Wizards made the playoffs for the first time under Wall — beating the Bulls in five games before losing to the Pacers in six. 

RIP Miyah 

Wall’s legacy in the District extends beyond the court. He donated food and money to underserved communities. He formed deep connections with fans — none more so than Damiyah Telemaque-Nelson, a 6-year-old District native who battled Burkitt’s Lymphoma. Wall wrote her name on his sneakers during the 2014-15 season and even helped introduce Telemaque-Nelson to rapper Nicki Minaj.

When Telemaque-Nelson died in December 2014, Wall broke down after an emotional 133-132 double-overtime victory over the Boston Celtics. 

“It’s just tough,” said Wall, who hit the game-winning shot to beat Boston. “To see a little kid that fights so hard against cancer and can’t beat it. This game is for her.”

Wall spoke at Telmaque-Nelson’s funeral and became an advocate for cancer research in the months after. In 2018,  Wall got a tattoo in memory of her, as well. 

Fighting through pain 

If injuries eventually came to define much of Wall’s time in Washington, playing through pain is also undeniably part of the story.

There’s no better example than Wall’s gritty return from a broken hand midway through the team’s 2015 playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks. Wall suffered the injury in Game 1, missed three games, then returned for the last two games before Washington was eliminated in six.

Wall cited playing with the broken hand when he talked to The Athletic about his disappointment with how the Wizards handled the trade to Houston

“I played through damn near every injury that a lot of people wouldn’t have played through,” Wall said. “I played through broken hands in the playoffs. I think I did everything I could and gave everything I had, heart and soul to the organization on and off the court.” 

‘This is my city’ 

Mike Tirico’s call is still iconic: “Porter can’t find anybody. Gives it to Wall. Working against Bradley. For three. JOHN WALL! What a shot!” 

Tirico perfectly captured the defining moment of Wall’s legacy with the Wizards. With 3.5 seconds left, Wall hit a game-winning shot from deep to force a Game 7 against the Boston Celtics in 2017. After hitting the jumper, Wall jumped on the scorer’s table and faced the Washington crowd — yelling, “This is my city!”

At the time, it didn’t feel like an exaggeration. Though the Wizards lost the series, Wall signed a five-year supermax extension later that summer. The contract was supposed to keep Wall in Washington for years to come. 

Wall played in just 79 more games as a Wizard across the next three seasons. The city that was once his is now just a place where he used to play.  

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