Over the past seven months, Red Bull has held basketball runs in nine major US cities—Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, DC—pulling a team of eight guys from each city to represent that respective metropolis. (You can watch highlights of the events here and here.) Today, those nine squads will compete on the Barclays Center practice court, and four of ‘em will earn the right to compete in the Red Bull Midnight Run, a competition that will take place tomorrow night on the Nets’ home floor minutes after Brooklyn takes on the Miami Heat. The winning group of players will earn nothing but pride and the right to say their city is home to the best streetballers in the nation.
In advance of the Midnight Run, we got up with Red Bull endorsee John Wall to talk about the tournament, the current streetball scene and his thoughts on the Washington Wizards’ play as of late.
SLAM: Are you excited about the Midnight Run?
John Wall: Yeah, I feel like it’s a great opportunity for people to go out there and try to put their city on the map. It’s gravitating to guys who’ve been overseas, been in the D-League and been college players, and if you really wanna represent your city and do big things, this is a good opportunity. If you have the best city for that year, you have an opportunity to win it all.
SLAM: Do you think there’s a different mentality for playing for your home city as opposed to a pro team?
JW: I think it’s kind of the same, but it is different. You might have the opportunity to play with a lot of guys you grew up with and knew around the area, and when you go play overseas or anything like that, you’re meeting new people. I think people really want to go out there and represent, try to put their city on the map as much as possible. Why not have the bragging rights to say you’re the best city in the world for that whole year?
SLAM: What do you think of the streetball scene, especially as a way of coming up in the basketball world?
JW: I really like it. I enjoy it a lot, man—it’s a lot of fun. That’s what I grew up watching. I grew up learning how to dribble from watching so much streetball. It kind of was hot for a minute and I feel like it was going back away from getting on the map—this is a great opportunity to bring it back in an organized way. I used to watch Hot Sauce and AO and all those guys—those are guys I used to watch a lot of film of and just try different moves and stuff. In games you can do those types of moves and see if somebody will fall for it, so it was exciting for me to see how they handle the ball and it made me want to improve my skills.
SLAM: Is there a different mentality for games like the Midnight Run, as opposed to the NBA style of play?
JW: Nah, I think you play it like a regular basketball. That’s the biggest thing. Some guys are gonna try tricks and those things, but the main thing is you’re not getting no prize or getting any money or anything like that—you’re basically just putting your pride up for it. If you really care about and love your city, you’re gonna try and put your city on the map as much as possible.
SLAM: The Wizards are 16-17, middle of the pack in the East. What do you think of where the team is at this point?
JW: I feel OK about it, but there are two times I feel like we’ve been at .500 and had the opportunity to get on a winning streak having games at home, and we find a way to fall off and not stay focused, and we fall behind. This is a great opportunity for us to get past those and get on a winning streak where we can try to win some games and get some separation.
SLAM: Still writing “PLAYOFFS” on your kicks every night?
JW: Yeah, definitely. Never gonna stop that. Once I say something it’s a “Go” with me.
SLAM: Do you sense a different camaraderie within the team this year, as opposed to past years?
JW: Yeah, I think we’ve done a great job. How we finished last year, we kind of already had built our chemistry, and we added a couple pieces this year. The main thing with us is we just need to stay consistent. Gotta find a way to win these games when we get the opportunity to do that. And we gotta stay focused. I feel like if we stay focused we can find a way to win these games and try to get some separation in the East.
SLAM: Who’s the funniest guy on the team?
JW: It’s tough, man. You’ve got guys like Martell [Webster]—he’s funny in a weird way. He’s different that everybody. Probably Glen Rice Jr, our rookie. He’s a pretty funny guy, a funny guy to be around. He’s always got jokes and always something he wants to say.
SLAM: He’s cool with putting himself out there, even as a rookie?
JW: He does it the right way. He has a lot of fun and then he sits back—he makes us laugh and then keeps it moving.
SLAM: Your free-throw percentage is at 85.1, up from 80.4 last year and 78.9 the year before. Where’d that jump come from?
JW: Just being more focused, you know what I mean? I’ve always been a great free throw shooter most of my life, but not really being focused or locked in on those things—and those are easy points. So that’s my main focus, [being] locked in on that and trying to make sure I keep making those.
SLAM: Are you starting to think about potentially making your first All-Star Game this year?
JW: I mean, you hear about those stories and those things, and I have my separate goals aside that I keep in my head, but other than that I’m just trying to go out there and play basketball, be the best point guard that I can be, be a leader to the team and try to make these guys better and make myself a better player. And lead them to the Playoffs, really.
SLAM: They’ve been calling the Warriors’ backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson “The Splash Bros.” Are you and Brad Beal trying to get a nickname for the Wizards’ backcourt?
JW: Nah, I’d rather just keep it the same. They’re both of a heck of a player that can shoot the ball, and that’s why you can call them that. I just like [the media] calling me John Wall and calling him Brad Beal, and let’s go play some basketball.
JW: Yeah, I’m reading Terrence J’s book. And I’m starting to read Dwyane Wade’s book. I just got it, so I’m trying to read his book. But now I’m reading Terrence J’s book about being raised by his mom.