The Washington Wizards held a Thursday afternoon press conference to officially announce the re-signing of point guard John Wall to a five-year maximum contract extension that will make him the "foundational player" of the Wizards franchise, in the words of owner Ted Leonsis, through the 2018-19 season. The announcement and ostensible re-introduction of the face of the franchise represented a major moment not only for the Wizards organization, but also for Wall's family, from his mother, Frances Pulley, to the rest of the relatives who'd "driven five hours from Raleigh, N.C." to take front-row seats and celebrate the accomplishment of the young man they'd helped raise.
As you can see in the video above, the 22-year-old guard — now one of just five point guards in the NBA signed to a max deal, joining former NBA Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose and All-Stars/Olympic gold medalists Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook — found himself overcome when recounting the journey that brought him from Raleigh to the dais at the Verizon Center on Tuesday.
Losing my dad at 9, it made my mom become a woman that I don’t think so many women could do in this world, working three to four jobs. Having six sisters and two brothers, I just had to work extra hard and I had to become a man quicker than I wanted to. My whole thing is, I was put on this earth to be something, and I was blessed to be able to play basketball, but my main thing was to keep striving to be a better person. That’s one thing my mom always instilled in me — it doesn’t matter what nobody thinks of you as a basketball player, they're always going to look at you as a person first.
You can start off with my grandma — she can't really travel as much, but when she gets the opportunity, she'll be here. You go to my two aunts right there — when I didn't have nothing, I could ask them for anything. To my sisters, my two sisters in the front row — they pushed me to do stuff, and I'm pushing my youngest sister to finish college and be the first one in our family to do that. And then you go to my mom, and I mean, words ... words can't even explain what, um ...
And from there, no more words.
Team president Ernie Grunfeld had put his hand on the shoulder of the now-sobbing Wall, while Leonsis spoke about the "genuine" affection Wall felt for his family members and about how the way Wall values family and community helped convince the Wizards' decision-makers that he was the man to lead the franchise off the court as well as on it. (To that end, Wall announced during the press conference that he plans to donate $1 million in salary to D.C. children's charities.)
After the presser wrapped up, Wall told Michael Lee of the Washington Post what he was feeling as he broke down:
“It was like a breathtaking moment, seeing my mom and seeing everything she worked for,” he said. “I mean, I do this because I love the game of basketball and I love playing it, but you also do it for her, as a single parent and what she had to do to raise us and I feel I’m fortunate enough to have the opportunity, especially, to take care of her for the rest of her life and do other things in the community.”
There'll be plenty of time to rant and rave about the Wizards committing perhaps as much as $96 million in salary to a player who's yet to lead Washington to the playoffs. (That's the upper limit Wall can reach in this deal, attainable only if he wins league MVP next year to allow him to bump his max deal from 25 percent of the annual salary cap to 30 percent, as detailed in Larry Coon's NBA Salary Cap FAQ; it's more likely that the contract will pay Wall between $78 million and $82 million, as I wrote Wednesday, but this is still technically possible.) We'll have years to evaluate Wall's on-court development, whether he's worthy of consideration among the league's elite performers at his position, and whether the Wizards' desire to commit as much money as possible to Wall as early as possible, while an understandable sign of "respect" and a means of fostering good will — was perhaps an unnecessary move that eliminated the possibility of significant cost savings.
In the moment, though, we saw a son, brother and nephew momentarily succumb to the awesome feeling of gratitude that comes with having been able to provide for the people he loves for the rest of their lives. It was a pretty rad thing to see, and it's worth taking an early-August second to celebrate before we resume more clinical matters. Players are people, too, and not all reminders of that fact are this heartening.
Hat-tip to Kurt Helin at ProBasketballTalk.
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