Wall's loyalty to D.C. about more than just basketball
By Zach Rosen
After signing a multi-year contract extension to stay in D.C., John Wall will officially play the prime of his career with the Wizards.
Wall, 26, just finished up his seventh season with the Wizards and plans to at least double that commitment. In a league where it’s rare to stay with one team for the majority of one’s career, Wall’s commitment to a long-term deal ensures stability and continuity to an organization ready to take the next step.
On Friday, Wizards majority owner Ted Leonsis, Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld, Wizards head coach Scott Brooks, and Wall participated in a press conference to announce Wall’s contract extension. Wall’s family and friends, including his mother Frances Pulley and sisters Tanya Pulley and Cierra Wall, and community groups Bright Beginnings, Passport to Manhood (Boys & Girls Club of America), and Future Leaders and Young Entrepreneurs (FLYE) were in attendance to commemorate the important day.
Grunfeld gave his opening comments to kick off the press conference. “Ted and the ownership group have committed to John, and John has committed to us, and we know we’re going to have him for the prime of his career,” Grunfeld said. “When we first drafted John, we said we were going to build with him, build around him, and get some players that fit his talents.”
Grunfeld continued to praise Wall’s work ethic and dedication to the Wizards and his teammates, finishing with a poignant statement.
“We look forward to having him in this franchise and one day having his numbers up in the rafters, and being one of the few players ever to maybe finish his career with one team.”
What stood out when Grunfeld made that statement was not the reaction of the other three on the podium. Wall’s mother Frances, emotional for all the right reasons, nodded in unison with Grunfeld’s statement.
To Wall and his family, few things matter more than loyalty and community. Wall grew up in a tough situation with his father in jail during his upbringing. His father, who was from the D.C. area and gave Wall an even greater bond to the Washington community right away, passed away when he was only nine years old. Wall became the man of the house and his relationship with his mother developed into something beyond special – he calls her his best friend and they talk at least five times per day.
Hence, the person most likely familiar with Wall’s thinking is his mother. Wall echoed her nodding by stating that he wants to finish his career in D.C. Since being drafted number one overall in 2010, Wall surely has embraced D.C. as his second home. It’s become an extension of his family. He’s the face of a Wizards franchise that is capturing the city’s attention. His loyalty and commitment to the community are a big part of that. Even though he’s not originally from Washington, Wall has embraced the DMV community as part of his own.
“When I first met John, our first conversation was we’re going to be in this together, the city and the community just need such leadership,” Leonsis said during the press conference. “Your ability to grow and really become an iconic and integral part of the community is really going to be a treat for us. I love when John stands up and says, ‘This is my city.’”
One of the young men with FLYE named Josh asked Wall later on in the press conference why giving back to D.C. became such an important part of Wall’s career, especially because he’s from Raleigh. The question was impressionable coming from one of Wall’s biggest partners in the community, and spoke to the root of where Wall’s commitment to the community comes from.
“The most important part is that I didn’t get put on this earth just to play basketball,” Wall explained. “Being in the position that I am to give back is always a great opportunity. I enjoy it, I love putting smiles on other people’s faces. And I know that some of the tough situations and tough up-growing and raising some people are. I’ve been through that same situation. I was blessed and fortunate to be able to make it to the NBA, play the game I love on the highest level, and also make money and take care of my family, but also take care of other people in the world, and that’s why I enjoy it.”
The basketball part of the decision was of course important as well. Wall expressed during the press conference, in questions after, and on the Off The Bench podcast that the extensions given to both Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. were important factors in his decision to extend his contract. He likes the direction of the franchise and the team has improved every season he’s been with the Wizards.
The Wizards will look to build upon their 49-win season, top-four finish in the East, and first round home court advantage, all of which happened for the first time since the 1978-79 season. The team has now made it to the second round three of the last four years, but have not been able to get over the hump. The future is bright, but a step forward towards the Eastern Conference Finals still needs to be made.
“If everybody just keeps getting better and developing as a team; if we keep adding the right pieces; Coach Brooks is going to push us every day,” Wall said about the team’s striking distance from winning a championship. “We’re close. My ultimate goal is to get to the Eastern Conference Finals and see what happens from there.”
If the Wizards make that next step, Wall will be at the forefront leading his team and his city to the top. He knows that the Eastern Conference Finals are the next step, but there are bigger goals on his mind, both for the franchise and individually.
“This is the only team I wanted to be with,” Wall said several times about staying with the Wizards.
“I definitely have a lot of unfinished business where I want to bring a championship here so we’re going to keep striving to get that, and I’m not going to stop until I get there, and that’s why I committed to come back to this city.”
Wall hopes to not only bring a championship to D.C., but also see his name hanging from the rafters one day. He wants to finish his career with the Wizards and be one of those rare players Grunfeld referenced who played his entire career with one team.
In the end, loyalty from the Wizards gave Wall all the more reason he needed to return that commitment to the franchise and the city that has become his second home.
“Just being committed – being committed to these guys like they’ve been committed to me since day one,” Wall said on Off The Bench. “Loyalty is the main factor in me in my life. If you're loyal to me, I show loyalty back, and I think that’s what has been going on with the Washington Wizards organization.”