John Wall transitioned from being a five-time NBA All-Star, a Slam Dunk Contest champion and the face of the Washington Wizards to a role player on the Los Angeles Clippers with a wealth of knowledge in head coach Tyronn Lue’s system.
His perseverance the last few years has been admirable, personally and professionally. The former No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft was limited to a combined 73 games in his last three seasons in Washington, missing the entire 2019-20 campaign to recover from heel and Achilles injuries. He lost his mom during that time, and a year later he lost his grandmother.
Wall was traded to the Houston Rockets in December 2020 and played 40 games in 2020-21 before the franchise committed to a roster rebuild. He sat out the 2021-22 season and had the final year of his contract bought out last summer to allow him to become a free agent. He signed a two-year, $13 million deal with the Clippers, who have the roster to compete for a championship with stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
Wall sat down with Bally Sports in Los Angeles to discuss his Clippers role, the grieving process, today’s NBA, the Wizards and Leonard.
What was the biggest adjustment in playing on the West Coast as a Clipper versus being back East?
It feels like it’s late as hell over here, you know what I mean? My first couple of games we’re over here playing at 7 and it’s over there on the East Coast, so I’m getting used to that. But other than that, it’s cold as hell splitting games between the Lakers and the Kings and trying to figure out some of those 1 o’clock games.
You’ve played against the Wizards twice this season. Does it feel like visiting the old school that you transferred from?
Oh yeah for sure, that’s exactly what it is. You got to be there for a little bit of time before you, like, transfer from a school, so yeah it was a really surreal amazing moment to be there. But like you said, you get chills going back. And you go back to all the things you used to do before the game and staying in that routine like all the spots that I used to eat at — Do I walk in the locker room this way? Or walk in that way? — and I had to try to get adjusted to all of that. But I think that was fun and it was great to get that type of love from the city (where) they have embraced me since I was a little kid and I embrace them back.
Do you still watch the Wizards on TV?
Most definitely — for sure, for sure!
What do you make of Kyle Kuzma’s season so far with the Wizards?
Oh man! He’s always been a talent, and he’s always been special and a gifted guy. I think that he’s finally blossomed into finding his role and his niche that he wanted to find. I mean, I can remember for me trying to find your role, trying to make a statement to be known in this league as a basketball player, and he’s one of those talented guys. Our first game in D.C., he couldn't miss in the first half, so now we tried to lock in him so he couldn’t get a rhythm and they played great team basketball. But I like the way he plays, for sure.
I empathize with you in the loss of your mother. How have you dealt with that mentally?
It’s hard, man. My mom was my best friend, and I talked to her every morning, all times of the day, always joking, talking s--- to you and all that. … That’s how it was. So it’s kind of hard sometimes to balance it out, and then dealing with my Achilles injury at the same time and not playing basketball. So it was all devastating.
So, like I said, just talking to my therapist and getting the therapy plus talking to them from time to time and also reflecting on the good times made things a little more easier for me. When she was saying that “I’m tired and ready to go to rest,” that made it a little more easier to accept it, but it’s still difficult. And her anniversary is on (Dec. 12), and it was tough for me to play that game against Boston. And it was hard trying to compete, so it was definitely devastating.
Who were some of your favorite ballhandlers to watch and why?
Allen Iverson, for sure. Tim Hardaway, Steve Francis, Stephon Marbury, Baron Davis … you know what I mean? Actually, one of my favorites that really got me learning how to dribble was “Hot Sauce” aka Philip Champion from the AND 1 Mixtape. Watching him and “Skip to My Lou” aka Rafer Alton and watching Sebastian (Telfair), and everybody used to (say), “The way you dribble through everybody, (it’s) like you’re from New York” with my play and my swagger. ... I looked up to a lot of New York guys that really pat that rock because that’s where they get it from when you’re playing in Rucker Park and you got to bring your game and not your name. So that’s where I feel where that’s where a lot of stuff that I did came from.
Who are some of your favorite ballhandlers currently in the NBA?
Currently in the NBA? You got Jamal Crawford. You got to have him. That’s one of my old heads. Kyrie Irving, for sure. Trae Young has an ill handle. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is one of those sneaky ones who you think doesn’t have one, but he has one for sure. LaMelo (Ball) pats the rock well. CJ McCollum got a handle. Ja Morant got a handle. You got so many guys who got that thing on a string. … Even Jalen Brunson, who people sleep on — he has a handle. So, it’s so many guys that are out here that are gifted and talented that work on their game so much, and you can tell that it’s working out for them the way that they wanted it to be.
Prior to your time here with the Clippers, do you ever recall ever playing on a team as complete roster-wise?
The only team I know with players and a team as talented like this was when I was at Kentucky with DeMarcus (Cousins) and all them guys, but I was the main guy. But it was cool for me to adjust and talking to the team and talking to the guys and they said to me, “Just come over and be yourself. Push the pace, be aggressive for the team, get out in transition and get the guys going.”
I know that I’ll be the third or fourth option on this team. I’m not trippin’ because I’ve been that guy for years, and it’s had a toll on my body. So I’m cool with whatever role I have for this team to try to win a championship, and then you need no more on your resume than that. So playing with them is amazing. To see a guy (like Leonard) working on his game — that’s so special and talented. You see him get to his spots, and then there’s nothing you can do.
Do you see comparisons to Kawhi and Michael Jordan?
Oh yeah. The midrange is crazy. That s--- is amazing! Defensively, how he is just to see him (and) how he gets locked in, it’s like, “I want to be great.” Having a guy like that, we know that we can go to at any moment of time when times get hard is like, OK, you really can’t stop him. He can only stop himself. And that's how you look at Mike. But Mike was more explosive. Kawhi is more methodical with more of a simple basic game, and he gets to his spots.
When Kawhi scores on people does he do a lot of talking?
He don’t talk! He doesn’t talk at all. Mike talks s---. He doesn’t really talk, but he opens up more than most people think he does. He really talks when he’s chilling with the guys, so he's a lot more open than people think he is. On the court, he don’t say s---. I mean, I don’t want a guy giving me 40, and he don’t talk. I like to hear somebody talk s---! He’s like, “Take these buckets and keep movin’!”