Saturday, May 20, 2017

Building D.C.’s Wall

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Quarterback.  Center in hockey.  Pitcher.  Point guard. 

These are the great orchestrators of the major sports, the conductors of athletic symphonies.  The best at each position are mesmerizing, must-watch performers.  Look away at your own risk. 

Elite quarterbacks command the huddle, manipulate at the line of scrimmage, satisfy a demanding cast of offensive specialists and drop wicked, under-duress passes into tight windows with the game on the line.  I’m talking about Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. 

Centers lead, glide through traffic, control the power play, score and feather passes to snipers on either wing.  My personal favorite is the elegant and cerebral Nicklas Backstrom.  Sidney Crosby?  No.  Wrong town.  Wrong writer.    

Pitchers…what can you say, eh?  They put the ball in play and rip pitches that vary in velocity and defy physics.  The best control tempo, are masters of situational baseball and are capable of reaching a higher gear, bulldog mode if you will, in high-leverage situations.  Example?  Max Scherzer.

And then there’s my favorite: point guards.  In youth basketball, the first thing you need is a kid with handles, right?  Those same dribbling wizards are soon breaking presses in middle school and high school.  Point guards rule the college game.  In the NBA, where dominant, back-to-the-basket bigs have nearly gone the way of the dinosaurs, guards power the universal, spread, drive-and-dish, three-point shot offenses.  Point guards advance the ball, control pace, combat stagnation, run sets, gets shots for teammates or create their own when required.  For avid sports fans, watching an elite point guard work is a delicious four-course dish of jaw-dropping athleticism, unselfishness, high cerebral function and diversity of basketball skill.

You see where this is going.  Know that I do so with great trepidation.  Merely suggesting that the Washington Wizards, behind the oh…so…sexy play of John Freakin’ Wall, will contend in the Eastern Conference will likely cause a karmic apocalypse (this being D.C. sports and all).  But that’s what I’m doing. 

True story: The Washington Bullets winning the 1978 NBA championship is my first sports memory.  It’s very faint, but I remember the Bullets celebrating after beating the Seattle SuperSonics in Game 7.  Fast-forward 39 years (gulp), and I’m sports-meditating in my man cave.  Contemplating the Wizards’ recent epic heater, I reach this conclusion: This is the best Washington basketball team in nearly four decades.  They are legitimate Conference contenders. 

Yep, in the immortal words of the Star Trek voice-over, I just boldly went where no Washington basketball fan has gone since the Carter administration.  After a 2-8 start under new coach Scott Brooks, this looked like another lost season for Washington.  Then Wall found another gear, his teammates blended together like Nawlins gumbo and the Wizards, the Washington Wizards, rose from the Eastern Conference’s abysmal depths to its upper crust.

Wall is playing the best basketball of his career and is arguably the league’s best pure point guard.  His progression is undeniable, even if it wasn’t always consistent.  The first overall pick in 2010, Wall has always been a stat-stuffer: Scoring 16-20 points, dropping 8-10 assists and recording two steals is a routine night.  But in his first six seasons, Wall was plagued by injuries, a poor supporting cast, inconsistent shooting, an uncontrolled on-count recklessness and a mopey attitude unbecoming a team leader. 

No more.  Wall, still just 26, is averaging career highs in points (22.8), assists (10.2) and steals (2.1) per game.  He’s smiling more, attacking relentlessly and doing what he does better than anyone: see the floor and find open teammates in a most unselfish and completely refreshing way in this score-first generation.  But it’s the winning that matters most and those hopeless 2-8 Wizards are now 31-24 at the All-Star break.

The short: It took several years to build this John Wall.  He stopped.  He started.  He broke down and was rebooted.  Now he’s just balling.  The patience – he with himself and the organization with him – was worth it.  It’s a nice reminder that with a little faith – in ourselves and from the right supporting cast - we can all travel the imperfect journey to becoming our inner All-Star.  

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