Wizards' John Wall no longer content to stay quiet on social issues

WASHINGTON — John Wall used to be reluctant to wade into non-basketball debates. There was no particular reason. He just preferred not to. So it was surprising to hear Wall, in July, speaking passionately about the tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia. And there was Wall again, in September, urging NFL stars Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers to speak out more on social issues.

“It’s always been important to want to say something,” Wall said on the most recent The Vertical Podcast. “But sometimes I think everybody has already got their point across, and there is no need to say something. I felt like it was time for me to say something.”

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The NFL’s perceived blackballing of Colin Kaepernick — and President Donald Trump’s divisive response to players like Kaepernick and others kneeling during the national anthem — struck a nerve with Wall. Civil rights, social injustice — these are important issues to the Wizards guard. Tattooed all over his body are images of prominent black sports pioneers (Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali) and civil rights leaders (Malcolm X, Martin Luther King). To Wall, the last few months have felt deeply personal.

John Wall is starting to look at things bigger than basketball. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
John Wall is starting to look at things bigger than basketball. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

“Those guys I put on my back are powerful people to me,” Wall said. “Some are the reasons I play sports, some are the reasons I do a lot of things. Because of what they believed in. Muhammad Ali, one of my favorite quotes [of his] is [paraphrasing], “Who is not crazy to take risks will never accomplish nothing in life, will never be nothing.” That’s something I live by. Because even if you are a billionaire or somebody in another profession, you have to take risks to get there. If you don’t believe in taking risks and taking chances, you are never going to accomplish nothing in life. That’s what I take pride in.”

On Monday, Wall wasn’t sure if the Wizards would do anything during the national anthem — later that night, Washington’s players locked arms during the anthem before a preseason game against a Chinese team — and said any decision made moving forward would be made as a team. He did take exception to NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s edict that players needed to stand during the anthem, a message Silver delivered to the media following the NBA Board of Governors meeting and later reinforced in a memo to all 30 teams.

“I don’t think he had to make it so public,” Wall said. “Because now, basically, you are telling grown men that they can’t do something. Grown men have their own opinion on whatever they want to do. I think J.R. [Smith] said something like, ‘Yeah, all right.’ He feels like you’re telling me I can’t do this, or I won’t do it. At the end of the day, [Smith] has an opinion if he wants to do it or not. He has to deal with the consequences if he knows what he wants to do. We’re going to see. Some [players] are going to take it as, ‘You can’t tell me what to do.’ Same as Donald Trump. He’s saying get those sons of ’b’s off the field. People take it as like, OK, you are trying to disrespect me, play me as a grown man. I still have pride and morals for myself.

“[Silver] didn’t say nothing wrong to us. But he said, ‘You have no choice.’ Well now people say, ‘I have a choice.’ It’s like if you are injured, you have a choice to play through it or not play through it. You just have to deal with the consequences. At the end of the day, you know what the consequences are. You have to be willing to accept it.”

On to your emails …

Markelle Fultz made the interesting decision to tweak his jump shot. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Markelle Fultz made the interesting decision to tweak his jump shot. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Chris, how often do players change their shots going into a season? [Philadelphia 76ers coach] Brett Brown seemed to be disappointed that [Markelle] Fultz and his trainer did.

— Jimmy Anderson, Seattle

There’s a little bit of drama in Philly. Fultz tweaked his jump shot during the offseason — my understanding is that the reconstruction of it was underway before the draft — and it’s clear the Sixers don’t love it. His release point is higher and the ball is further off his body than it was in college. It’s less clear why Fultz felt the need to change it to begin with; he was a 40-plus percent 3-point shooter at Washington.

The Sixers are downplaying all this, and it’s worth noting that Fultz is 19 and was trying to get better. That’s a positive. As for how common it is for players to revamp their shots, it doesn’t happen a lot, but it’s not uncommon. The Spurs have a terrific track record for correcting flaws in shots. Assistant coach Chip Engelland is considered one of the best shot doctors in the game. Richard Jefferson shot 31.6 percent in 2009-2010 in Milwaukee. He tweaked his shot when he was traded to San Antonio, and the next season he shot 44 percent.

Kawhi Leonard is a better example. Leonard never cracked 30 percent from 3-point range in two seasons at San Diego State. He went to San Antonio, was shown ways to clean it up — photos of Jefferson and Kobe Bryant were used, Engelland once told me — and Leonard has developed into one of the NBA’s best 3-point shooters.

The bottom line: Teams have no problem with a player changing his shot. They just want to be consulted when he does it.

Thoughts on the new format for the All-Star Game? Do you think it will benefit the fans or the players?

— Deven Parikh, Unknown

I’m … well, I’m kind of whatever. To recap: Beginning in 2018, two captains — who will be the leading vote-getters from each conference — will draft teams, with no regard for conference. The selection of the All-Stars themselves will remain unchanged. It will be the first time the league will have an All-Star Game without a matchup between the two conferences.

Again, I’m kind of indifferent. The selection process could be fun. Will LeBron James snub Kyrie Irving? Will Stephen Curry feel compelled to draft his Warriors teammates first? Would he pass on any? What if Russell Westbrook is a captain? Would he take Kevin Durant?

There still is nothing to disincentivize players from treating the first 46 minutes like a glorified dunk contest. What the NBA should do is up the stakes. How about this: Each player from the winning team gets a million dollars for the charity of their choice. The $12 million is a drop in the bucket for the league — it comes out to $400,000 per team, if divvied up — it creates a lot of good PR, and players will be motivated to play hard. Just a thought.

Can we expect to see any more rule changes in the near future?

— Marshall, Dallas

Lottery reform was Adam Silver’s top priority, and in getting it he picked up a big win. What it will do to small-market teams remains to be seen. Though only one team, Oklahoma City, voted against it, there were many high-ranking team executives that were wary of it. But Silver went straight to the top on this one, lobbying owners over the final few weeks to close the deal.

What’s next? Keep an eye on draft swap rights. The NBA is keen on eliminating them in trades, and league sources say Silver initially wanted to go after them in the most recent Board of Governors meeting, only to back off. Expect this topic to be revisited soon.