Saturday, July 29, 2017

Their #2 vs. Our #2

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The careers of Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving and Washington guard John Wall will be forever linked.  Fair or unfair, that’s just how it is.  The points of intersection are too great; the comparison is too juicy to ignore. 

Both players attended blueblood institutions – Wall chose Kentucky, Irving went to Duke – and left for the NBA after just one season.  Both were number one overall picks in the NBA Draft - Wall (2010) and Irving (2011) - and have inked lucrative contract extensions.  Both players have been four-time All-Stars.  Both players are among the best point guards in the world.  Oh…and both wear number 2.

Similar?  Yes.  Identical?  No.  The differences…    

While Wall and Irving are both point guards, their styles are unique.  Wall is a traditional point guard (a regrettably negative description in this great jump shot era).  He orchestrates offense through masterful ball distribution.  Wall can score as required, but he thinks pass first.  His court vision is arguably the best; he inarguably makes his teammates better (and a whole lot richer: see Bradley Beal and Otto Porter). 

Irving has a little Allen Iverson in him.  He’s a better pure shooter than Iverson, but his offensive mentality is identical: score.  Pass?  Well, sure…but only as necessary.

Wall’s and Irving’s impressive individual career statistics illustrate this contrast.  Wall’s averaged 18.8 points and 9.2 assists per game; Irving’s countered with 21.6 points and 5.5 assists per game. 

Pick your style.  Toe-may-toe; Toe-mah-toe.  A finely crafted IPA or a porter.  The Beatles or the Rolling Stones.  Splendid either way.

But there’s a non-basketball difference between these two and it surfaced on the same day last week: Irving has a little drama in him…Wall not so much.    

In his first three seasons, Irving’s Cavs won 21, 24 and 33 games.  In the last three, Cleveland’s recorded 53, 57 and 51 wins, appeared in three NBA Finals and won a NBA championship. 

The change coincided with LeBron James’s return to Cleveland.  Yet despite the success realized from the James partnership, Irving requested that the Cavs trade him last week.  Why?  Irving is fatigued by being Robin to James’s Batman and desires a new team where he can play alpha-dog and receive the credit he feels he’s deserved.  Never mind that James, at age 32, is likely in decline and may leave Cleveland after this season – all things that would offer Irving the leading role he covets…in Cleveland.  And the timing – after the draft, after free agency – was just awful.  It drips of impulsiveness and is saturated with self-interest.

In other words, Irving threw the latest NBA version of a two-year-old fit. 

Conversely, just hours after Irving’s trade request made headlines, Wall signed a four-year extension with the Wizards.  Wall is staying put and trying to build something that Washington hasn’t had since 1978: a NBA champion.  He’s pursuing his career-defining ring and writing his legacy organically: no team hopping, no trade demands, no drama.  Instead of shunning Washington because of all it isn’t, Wall is committed to elevating D.C. - a post-disco era third-world NBA town - to basketball’s pinnacle.  And Wall’s making that commitment in his typical all-business, no bull---- style: It’s as if Wall’s never seen a daytime soap, is unfamiliar with Susan Lucci and is disgusted by hysterical, tearless faux-cries. 

Considering recent team history, Wall, not Irving, should be seeking professional asylum from his current employer.  But that’s not Wall’s style.  Putting the money aside (it’s so inevitably crazy for NBA stars that it’s irrelevant), Wall’s decision to remain with Washington – a team that needs him more than he needs it - indicates that our #2 values being synonymous with one team and one city and endearing himself to one fan base.  In other words, Wall doesn’t just value fame, advancing his “brand” and chasing titles, he values something that’s all but lost in major sports today: loyalty.    

So while Cleveland deals with chaos in the wake of Irving’s drama-bomb, consider, and appreciate, the calm surrounding the Wizards.  Consider and appreciate John Wall, a man who has determined that the greenest grass grows beneath his feet.

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