For John Wall, returning to Washington, D.C., for the first time since the Wizards traded him to the Houston Rockets brought with it the standard emotions, but it also brought something else: closure.
“I think I spoke on it with The Athletic what I wanted to get off my chest and let the past be the past,” Wall said following Monday’s 131-119 loss to the Wizards. “Other than that, I’m not really talking about being with the Wizards or anything anymore.”
Wall was referencing an interview he did before his return game in which he said he felt there was a lack of honesty and transparency from the Wizards’ front office leading up to the trade that sent him to Houston in December in exchange for Russell Westbrook.
Wall said his memories of his time in Washington will center more on his involvement in the community, where he was a fixture in multiple different programs.
“I have great things I did that I want to continue to do and remember I did, from being with Miyah [a 6-year-old girl Wall befriended who died of cancer in 2015], Bright Beginnings, my adopted school of Ketcham Elementary. The fifth-graders know I have an agreement with them I want to keep going,” he said. “I won the [NBA] Community Assist Award helping D.C.
“Those are the things I’ll continue to talk about, but anything with the Wizards or how the trade went down or anything like that, that article was the last time I’m gonna speak on it. I’m past that and moving forward with my new franchise.”
The Wizards showed a tribute video in the first half recognizing Wall and his 10 years with the franchise, particularly his work in the D.C.-area community. But with no fans in the building, it didn’t carry the same kind of weight a typical return game — especially for a fan favorite like Wall — would normally have.
“It was difficult. I played for the fans; I played for the city,” Wall said. “I’m an emotional and passionate person. I’ve been for 10 years. I wanted to see those guys and see them here to support me.
“It was definitely difficult also wanting to have my first game back in D.C. having my mom in the stands,” Wall said of his late mother, Frances Pulley. “She’s been there with me for everything, and knowing she’s not here was difficult. She’d probably been in row 10, section G — or the front row, if she was feeling healthy. I didn’t have the opportunity to have that, but I know she’s watching down on me and very proud of me on the comeback I had. But it would’ve been dope to see her there.”
Wall scored 29 points to go along with 11 assists in 35 minutes, but with key Houston players out (Christian Wood, Victor Oladipo, P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon), the Wizards pulled away in the second half to hand the Rockets their sixth straight loss.
It was the second time Wall played against his former team, which diluted some of the emotions, he said.
“It was cool, for real. I wasn’t too worried about it. We already played them once,” he said. “I think it would’ve been different if the fans were there, but the fans weren’t there. It was good to compete and see some of the guys I mess with. That was it.”
Despite no fans, Wall said it was nice to see familiar faces in the arena, but he lamented the missing ones.
“I know a couple people throughout this arena today that have been supporting me since I was a kid for 10 years that I didn’t get a chance to see because they got laid off because of the pandemic,” Wall said. “I wish them the best. I know they played a major part in me becoming a young boy to a grown man.
“If I have the opportunity when I come back next year and there are fans, I definitely want to get those people in the stands. So I will be looking forward to buying a lot of tickets for people that looked out for and helped me grow to who I am today and let them know I haven’t forgot about them.”
Wall had the energy going early, playing an electric first half and punctuating it with a signature, soaring left-handed dunk that ended with a loud yell. Wall scored 22 of his 29 in the opening half, but with the offensive burden falling almost entirely on him, the Rockets weren’t able to keep up with the firepower of the Wizards.
Bradley Beal scored 37 on 14-of-24 shooting for Washington, while Westbrook added another triple-double to the books: 16 points, 13 rebounds and 15 assists.
“We go at it. We compete. We guard each other, push each other,” Beal said of his former teammate Wall. “Even tonight, we’re pushing each other, telling each other to be better, guarding each other. It’s just competitive. That’s just who we are; that’s our nature. I think that’s what kinda pushed us to be who we are, who we both are today, and it’s a beautiful thing.
“So, I’m definitely looking forward to just competing against him for the rest of my career, as crazy as that may sound.”
At multiple points during the contest, Wall talked and laughed with Beal. The two had built a backcourt bond, growing up together and developing their partnership to both become All-Star-level guards.
“I think he’s embracing it. He’s enjoying it,” Wall said of Beal. “I think he wishes he was on the other side of being there with me, because of all the hard work and dedication we put in the last two years.”
Wall missed all of last season because of a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered in February 2019, which left many to wonder what kind of player he would be when he returned. It was a driving factor in the exchange for Westbrook, with Wall’s hefty contract and health concerns looming over his future.
But the 30-year-old guard has returned to a high level, averaging 19.5 points and 5.9 assists per game for the Rockets. Asked if he enjoyed showing what he can still do and what he could’ve possibly done with the Wizards, Wall was short and to the point.
“Yeah. They see it,” he said. “They’ve seen it all season.”
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