John Wall: The Hero that DC Needs
At the end of The Dark Knight Batman is fleeing the police. Although Batman narrowly thwarted the Joker at every turn Batman has to take the blame for the death of Gotham City white knight district attorney Harvey Dent. Lt. Gordon’s grim voice explains, “Because we have to chase him. Because he’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now.” That’s what John Wall is to Washington, DC.
The Washington Wizards are not a good franchise. Since winning the championship in 1978 the Wizards have ranged from very bad to somewhat interesting. Even the greatest player of all time, his Airness, couldn’t get the Wizards into an 8th seed. Wizards management has blown draft picks (Kwame Brown) traded away players (Chris Webber, Ben Wallace) and in general ran this franchise into the group. Out of all of the four major franchises in the DC area (Capitals, Redskins, and Nationals) the Wizards have by far the least engaged fans. In fact as of February 2017 they have 6,000 less season ticket holders then the Capitals. This is a franchise that has marketed seeing other marquee teams as a way to get people to go to the games. This is a franchise who hasn’t won a second-round playoff series since 1979 (when Jimmy Carter was president!). It’s not a surprise to find fans who cheer louder for free chicken sandwiches than for their team.
That’s why John Wall is our Batman. Wizards fans haven’t exactly treated him right. Whether it’s only showing up when they Wizards are winning playoff games, having more rival team fans in the arena then Wizards fans, or that time Wall got booed at the free throw line on his home court. John Wall has never given up on DC. In fact, John Wall has taken it upon himself to be the face of the city. During a game against the Lakers last season, John Wall yelled “this is my city” after hitting clutch shots to stop a Lakers comeback dead in its tracks. Despite everything going against the Wizards franchise John Wall has persisted. Through sheer force of will he has dragged this franchise into national relevance again.
Friday night, I went to Game 6. I’ll admit I was anxious. The Wizards have lost the last two game 6s in the John Wall era. In 2014 to the Pacers and 2015 to the Hawks. After a sluggish start for both teams it looked like this would be the last game of the season for Washington. The Wizards and Celtics had been trading baskets but with less 1:50 to go in regulation the Wizards were down by 5. Boston fans scattered throughout the arena started to celebrate and bump their chests. After an offensive foul by Wall it seemed like their fate was sealed.
But it wasn’t.
The Wizards forced a Celtics turnover and Beal hit a 3, his first of the game. Beal was amazing all game, completely unguardable. However, he missed all of his 3 pointers. John Wall partially blocked an Isaiah Thomas 3 on the next possession, then hit the turbo and went straight to the basket. Wall was fouled and calmly hit both free throws. Game is now tied 87–87. Avery Bradley hit a long 2 and Beal sunk a pretty floater to make the score 89–89. Celtics fans in the crowd started to get quiet as the Wizards fans got energized. An Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford fancy pick and pop put the score at 91–89 Celtics with 7.7 seconds on the shot clock.
“Should we go for the win or the tie,” I asked my extremely nervous girlfriend.
“I’m not sure,” she said back.
I feel so much anxiety I start to feel nauseous. This was the season on the line. Celtics fans would be eager to celebrate and mock Wizards fans as they left. Avery Bradley had talked about how much fun it was to win a game on the road and the Celtics had worn all black, mimicking something the Wizards had done this past January. This was shaping up to the one of the most important shots of Wizards history. “The Final Countdown” blared on the Verizon Center speakers. The 20 second timeout feels like an eternity.
Otto inbounds the ball to Wall as Avery Bradley blankets him. Beal is open on the wing and I thought for a second Wall would pass it to him. Wall instead launches a deep three. This isn’t a right behind the arc three. This is a Steph Curry range three. This is a directly in the defender’s face three. I hold my breath and I see the most beautiful sight: the “swish” of the net as the ball sails clean through it. The crowd goes absolutely insane. In the span of a few minutes the Wizards went from down 5 with under a minute to up 1 with 3.5 seconds to go. The Celtics try to run a play for Isaiah Thomas but it clangs off the rim. Wizards even up the series. GAME 7!
Win or lose this series, this win was huge. Other fan bases who are spoiled by deep playoff runs and will laugh and mock that a playoff win means so much. “That win didn’t even clinch the series? Do you really have to get that excited?” Damn right we do. DC hasn’t had a team in any of the four major sports in the conference finals since the Caps went to the Stanley Cup in 1998. The Redskins are in a perpetual state of dysfunction since the worst owner in existence, Dan Snyder bought the team. The Nationals, who have a talented roster and are on the upswing, haven’t won a playoff series yet. The Capitals, despite having one of the most talented rosters in the NHL haven’t made it out of the second round. Each Capitals playoff lost has been more excruciating than the one before. This year it was losing game 7 at home to the dreaded Pittsburgh Penguins. So yes, winning this game right after the Capital loss means everything to the city.
That brings us to John Wall. Washington, DC has a superstar in John Wall and he is underappreciated, hence my Dark Knight analogy at the beginning of this post. Fans show up late for games, quit on the team after a bad start to the season, and cheer louder for free chicken than the actual game. Game 4 this year the Verizon Center was half empty at the end of the game, because the game turned into a blowout. Would Warriors fans leave early? NEVER!
Wall gave DC the best sports moment of the last 10 years. Two years ago, it was Paul Pierce. Pierce was the cocky unflappable former NBA finals MVP who hit the big shot. Pierce was Obi Wan and Wall was the apprentice (yes, I am mixing my Star Wars and comic book references here, deal with it). Wall didn’t have that ice-cold-Ima-badass-killer feeling in his veins yet. Now it’s 2017 and Wall just had his superstar moment.
After the game was over Wall jumped on the scorer’s table and hyped up the crowd. It was the hypest I have ever seen the Verizon Center. The noise was so loud you could have mistaken it for Oracle. Wall basked in the city’s embrace like a conquering hero.
Let’s not be the people of Gotham and not appreciate our hero. Start going to games. Start repping his jersey. Let’s make Verizon Center the place opposing teams talk about being loud. The Wizards and John Wall deserve our attention, so lets give it to them.