John With the Shades

#TBT: It’s the summer of ’07, just a few months before my senior year at Oak Hill Academy. I’m the No. 1 high school player in the country — and I know it, too, if you know what I mean. I’m 17, doing whatever I want on the court, and no one can tell me nothin’.

Around that time, Reebok is holding their RBKU camp in Philly. It’s an event they have every year, where the best high school players in the country all come up and scrimmage against each other. (Basically it’s just a big audition for the scouts and the shoe companies.) And of course I’m there.

My team has a backcourt of me and Isaiah Thomas (yeah, that one) — and we’re pretty much just running shit. The other team, they’ve got some guys, no doubt. It’s basically an All-Star game, you know — everyone’s got some guys. But at the point? Man, they’ve got this super-skinny kid, this junior nobody. Like … I don’t even know his name. Don’t really care, either. I think he’s from Raleigh? Could be from wherever. That’s just how it was for me that summer. I’m feeling myself, and I know that no other point at that camp can touch me. Especially not some kid I don’t know, from I-don’t-know-where.

Anyway, at some point during one of the scrimmages, I catch an open lane in full stride and I’m flying. I take a quick dribble, then another, past this no-name point of theirs — and then I dunk that shit SO HARD.

Not even on him — I’m too fast to dunk it on him. I just dunk it by him. And as I land, and turn around to get back on defense, all hyped up, this no-name kid decides he’s gonna cross my path. Big mistake. I give him a bump in the chest — serious bump — and scream right in his face, too.

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I mean….

What’s he gonna do about it?

Fast-forward a year, and I’m in Rome playing professionally. (Whole other article.) It’s slim pickings on TV where I am (mostly Italian stuff), plus back then I’d like to keep an eye on what was going down at home. And so sometimes, late at night, I’d pull up YouTube … and just get lost watching anything hoops. You know what I’m talking about: NBA clips … college clips … and even (yeah, I’m a hoops junkie, what can I say) some high school clips. See who’s doing it big in the year behind me.

And watching those high school clips, man — there’s this one kid who’s really impressing me. He’s really standing out from the pack. He’s got that lightning quickness … that dunker’s bounce … that league-ready handle … that lockdown-defender mentality. This kid has pretty much the total package. But most of all? The thing that really catches my eye?

Dude plays mean.

I like that.

I make sure I have his name right: Wall.

John Wall.

O.K., John Wall….

I type him into the search bar and do some more research. (Always gotta keep an eye on the competition.)

John Wall … senior … point guard … Raleigh, North Caro—

Hold up.

No way. Nah.


And I’m just sitting there, like, Damn. Skinny Nobody From Raleigh … he arrived.

Like, honestly, what are the odds: that the junior no-name you dunk on one year, and give your hardest business to, is going to turn around the very next year, as a senior … and now he’s one of the best point guard prospects you’ve ever seen.

What are the odds, man.

Fast-forward a decade, and John Wall is in the conversation for NBA MVP.

I already felt he was deserving before I joined up with the Wizards midseason … and I’ve only felt that way even more since then.

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Yeah, I know — John isn’t really one of those first few names most people are talking about right now. And yeah, I know — there are a lot of great players out there, having a lot of great seasons. Take nothing away from those guys. But I just think that what John With the Shades (that’s what I call him) has done this year, all year — as a leader, as a winner, as a scorer, as a defender, and as a capital-P capital-G Point God — deserves a little more respect. A little more love from y’all.

Because really, here’s the truth: All of the players up for MVP this year — their teams are going to the playoffs. And that’s no surprise. That’s how it always is, and that’s how it always should be. (How valuable can you be, if you ain’t winning?) But the thing is … all of those teams were supposed to be winning. All of those teams were predicted to make the playoffs.

Not the Wiz, though. After last year, it seemed like everyone was ready to write the Wizards off entirely. Man, nobody was out here talking up the Wizards in the preseason. Nobody. (@ me on Twitter if you were.)

And yet here we are: division champs, top tier of the East, home court in the playoffs. And don’t get me wrong — that’s been a total team effort. That’s been Bradley playing out of his mind, and that’s been Otto and Kelly emerging like they have, and that’s been Bogie knocking down big shots for us, and that’s been Marcin, and Markieff, and … just everyone, man. From Coach Brooks right on down to the end of our bench.

But it all starts with John.

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There are the numbers, of course: 23 points, 11 assists, 4 rebounds a night. Leading the league in steals. Best field goal percentage of his career. Getting to the line more than he ever has. Playing efficient as hell.

And there are also the individual games: Giving 39 and 9 to Portland. Giving 41 and 8 to the Clippers. Giving the Cavs 37 and 11 in a big win at their place. Putting up 34 and 14 in the game we needed to clinch the division. Numbers-wise, this has been the best season of John’s career, no doubt.

Most of all, though, it’s what’s not in the numbers that’s stood out to me this year with John. He’s a great teammate, and one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around — a lot of people don’t know that. I think people assume, just because John plays so mean … that it equals him actually being a legitimately mean dude. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Like, John’s that guy who’s always organizing a team outing, taking the team to dinner, inviting the team to the club — you know, just going out of his way to make guys feel included. That kind of stuff goes a long way for a team’s chemistry over the course of the year. And if you think that’s standard in this league … you’re out of your mind. There’s not a whole lot of teams around where you’ll find that the best player also happens to be one of the best dudes. But that’s how we have it here in Washington with John.

And if you ask me: We have it better than anyone.

Alright — I’ve said my piece. I’ve made my case.

John With the Shades is my MVP.

Personally, I think the résumé speaks for itself: lethal scorer AND lethal defender. Leader of the team that has probably most outplayed its expectations this season. And, on any given night — the best point guard in the world.

Voters … you do what you want, though. Recognize or ignore the excellence. Pick my guy or don’t. But I’ll leave you with some highly valuable final advice — and it’s something that I’ve learned from almost a full decade of experience:

Snubbing the kid from Raleigh? It’s a bad idea.

Lotta people are going to be “learning” the name John Wall these playoffs.

Doubt any of ’em forget it.