john wall

Originally published in SLAM 155

It was the NBA’s lost summer, and different people responded in different ways. Kevin Durant played on every playground and in every gym on Earth, stopping only long enough to play flag football with some random dudes. LeBron James floated the possibility of playing in the NFL, winning a Nobel Prize in literature or turning into a butterfly. And John Wall—well, the ROY runner-up prepared for the season.

We’re not talking about the workouts, although there was no shortage of those. Wall’s speed and ability to get to the rim were already established, so he spent hours working on his jumper, preparing for those who would dare him to shoot. He got in his share of pickup games too, wowing crowds with nasty crossovers and explosive dunks—and this is where he proved himself ready.

Because just a few short months later, in mid-December, as his Wizards faced the Philadelphia 76ers at their DC home, Wall broke off Evan Turner at the three-point line and emphatically flushed on Craig Brackins. This did two things: brought the crowd to its feet, and brought the Wizards within, well, 40. Highlight-reel dunks in utterly meaningless games? He couldn’t have been more ready.

Russ Bengtson