“He’s come a hell of a long way,” Frances Pulley said of her son. She looked at Tammy and Sharon, her sisters and John’s aunts, and Tonya, her eldest daughter whom Frances gave birth to at 18. “Hasn’t he come a long way since dealing with the time his father died?”
The women nodded. Yes, John had come a long way.
After several of the questions about basketball had been answered, what signing the third-largest contract in Washington Wizards history — at least $80 million over five years — meant for the team and its floor leader, Wall was asked about the support system that sat several feet away.
“Losing my dad at 9, it made my mom become something I don’t think a lot women could be,” he said. “Working three or four jobs. Just, I had to become a man quicker than I wanted to.
“My whole thing is I was put on this earth to be something, and I was blessed to be a great basketball player, but my main thing was to keep striving to be a better person. That’s one thing my mom always instilled in me, it doesn’t matter what nobody thinks about you as a basketball player, God is going to look at you as a person first. Aunts. Sisters. Grandmother. I’m pushing my younger . . . Words can’t even explain what . . . um . . .”
He tried to speak but couldn’t. The magnitude of the moment hit him. The tears came and wouldn’t stop. He bowed his head and cried some more as Ted Leonsis, the owner who began his latest Wizards rebuilding project with Wall and has yet to regret it, stepped in with a dignified comment about how genuine Wall’s relationship with his family is.
I could tell you Wall is one of just four players in NBA history alongside Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and Chris Paul to average 16.9 points, 8.0 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals over his career, and I could make a case that there really is no open market in NBA free agency, just two dozen or so players whose value to their specific team happens to be enough to warrant an $80 million investment, and that this was a good one, long-term, for the Wizards.
But it wouldn’t explain how Wall ended up as a starting point guard in the NBA, whose future children — and their children — now will hopefully have to never worry about getting a good education; who pledged $1 million of his new deal to children’s charities in Washington, with Mayor Vincent Gray in attendance at the news conference.
His father, John Carroll Wall, was born in Washington. He died in 1999 of liver cancer on a family trip to White Lake, N.C., at the age of 52. The horror of his father hemorrhaging to death in the hotel bathtub still haunts him. The only time John Carroll was able to spend with his son between the ages of 2 and 8 were weekends because he had spent the majority of his final 30 years behind bars for robbery and second-degree murder.