As former No. 1 picks, John Wall and LeBron James are in the same fraternity but Wall still has a long distance to travel before he can even think of joining James in the same class of elite NBA players. James entered the league a pre-packaged star and has lived up to the colossal hype in his first nine seasons.
But as he concludes a season that could result in him being the eighth NBA player to win three most valuable player awards, James shares something else with Wall aside from being the first to shake hands with David Stern on the night of the NBA draft. Like Wall, he failed to make the postseason in his first two seasons.
James understands the pressures that come with being the top overall pick and has often tried to pass along some advice when he crosses paths with Wall. After the Heat thrashed the Wizards on Feb. 10, James and Dwyane Wade huddled with Wall for several minutes to offer some encouragement.
“It’s about him staying positive. With him being a leader and the face of that franchise, people are going to look to him both on and off the court,” James said recently of Wall. “He has to stay positive in order for the ship to stay right. He’s been doing that this year, even though the wins and losses haven’t been there.”
Wall is concluding his second season on high note, with the Wizards (19-46) riding a five-game win streak into their season finale against Miami. But he has undergone a topsy-turvy campaign, with Flip Saunders getting fired and the team having an extreme roster makeover.
James’s second season was also tumultuous as his first coach, Paul Silas, was fired and the Cleveland Cavaliers came up short on a playoff berth. He admitted that the disappointment of playing on two lottery teams weighed on him early in his career.
“I was down for the simple fact that I wanted to help that franchise make the postseason. They hadn’t been in a long time,” James said. “The pressure definitely started to grow. At the same time, the organization allowed us to continue to grow, too, and allow me to grow. … It’s a lot of pressure, when you want to bring winning ways as the No. 1 pick and hopefully, the organization stays behind him.”
The Wizards are set to finish with the league’s second-worst record, but they will have a slightly better winning percentage this season than they did in Wall’s rookie year. James said he has watched Wall closely this season and has been impressed with his attitude.
“Regardless of their record, he’s going out there playing or trying to play at a high level every single night. It’s very tough in this league, when you come from winning ways in high school or college. He hasn’t been as successful as he would like to in the NBA, but he’s always been able to stay positive and you like that about him.”
Wall said he plans on attending some playoff games this season, most likely in Miami, to get a feel for the environment he hopes to experience soon. “I was happy to bring that postseason to my third year” James said. “All the fans was amazing. I remember it like it was yesterday, when we opened at home and all the white towels was waving against Washington in that series.”
James will reach the postseason for the sixth consecutive year, but he is still in search of the one achievement that has eluded him – and placed him under the most scrutiny. After the Wizards snuck out of Miami on Saturday with an 86-84 win, John Wall walked up to James, gave him a hug and tapped him on the chest. It was Wall’s turn to offer some encouragment.
“I just told him, good luck and go get him a championship,” Wall said.