NEW ORLEANS — John Wall and Bradley Beal didn’t have their schedules intersect much from the time they stepped off their chartered jet from Houston and arrived on Thursday in the Crescent City.
The Washington Wizards’ back court of the present and foreseeable future is in town for different reasons — Wall for the All-Star Game and the slam dunk contest, Beal for the Rising Star Challenge and the three-point shootout. But the pair share the same responsibility in representing their franchise, city and respective families over the weekend.
On a rare instance in which the duo was spotted together, Wall and Beal jumped onto each other’s shoulders, slapped five two times and saluted each other while filming an NBA commercial promoting the playoffs, something both players are hoping to reach for the first time.
“I'm looking forward to seeing that on TV,” Beal said of the commercial.
Since their arrival this weekend, Wall and Beal haven’t had any time to rest and relax. They both had to do a round of interviews for NBA Entertainment, then Wall had to do an autograph signing and practice for the slam dunk contest while Beal had his own autograph signing. On Friday, Beal had practice for the Rising Star Challenge then helped refurbish a home, while Wall attended an Eastern Conference all-star meeting, did another round of interviews and helped rebuild a local playground.
“It’s a lot of work. Everybody thinks it’s a break,” Wall said with a grin, “but it’s something you enjoy. I’m happy I have the opportunity to be here.”
Wall, the Wizards’ first all-star game representative since Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler in 2008, is part of a transitional season in the NBA in which Adam Silver has replaced David Stern as commissioner and nine of the players chosen for the All-Star Game were taken within the past five drafts. Four of the six first-timers are guards in Wall, Golden State’s Stephen Curry, Portland’s Damian Lillard and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan. Injuries to Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo created some openings, but Wall perhaps would’ve earned his spot regardless by posting career highs of 19.8 points and 8.5 assists and with the Wizards (25-27) ranking sixth in the lackluster Eastern Conference.
“My dream was to be in the NBA and once you get there, your goal is to be in the all-star game,” Wall said. “I thought I’d be an all-star earlier but I was diagnosed with a couple of injuries that set me back. A couple of guys are injured but I did a great job of working on my game last summer, and trying to stay healthy the whole summer and prepare myself for a good season. The ultimate goal this season is being in the playoffs.”
Beal agreed, but wanted to worry about that after he had competed in the three-point contest against Curry, Lillard, Minnesota’s Kevin Love, Orlando’s Arron Afflalo, Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson, San Antonio’s Marco Belinelli and reigning champion Kyrie Irving from Cleveland.
“I like ’em,” Beal said, when asked about his odds in the competition. “I feel confident.”
Wall said he wouldn’t have participated in the dunk contest if Eastern Conference coaches hadn’t made him an all-star for the first time, in his fourth season. With most dunks already executed and perfected, Wall believes that he can only add some flair and entertainment to his above-the-rim exploits.
“I got something up my sleeve but I don't want to talk about it,” said Wall, who will compete against reigning champion Terrence Ross of Toronto, Indiana’s Paul George, Golden State’s Harrison Barnes, Sacramento’s Ben McLemore and Lillard in a new-look event that also features a team champion.
In an ideal scenario this weekend for the Wizards, their two representatives would steal the spotlight, with Beal becoming the first Washington player since Tim Legler in 1996 to win the three-point shootout and Wall becoming the first slam dunk champion in franchise history and also its first all-star game MVP since Dave Bing in 1976.
The latter is the greatest long shot because Wall will come off the bench and be at the mercy of Indiana Pacers Coach Frank Vogel for playing time. But if all that occurred, Wall said he doesn’t know if he could handle it emotionally.
“If I was all-star MVP, I wouldn't know what to do. I’d cry. I’ll be honest: I’ll cry. That very rarely has been done. But you never know,” said Wall, who has attended all-star weekend each year in the league. “I'm too excited to get the opportunity to play on the biggest night, on Sunday, in front of the celebrities.”
Wall picked Beal to win the three-point shootout, while Beal chose Wall to take the slam dunk title. But Wall also feels that it won’t be long before Beal plays in the Sunday game, possibly alongside him.
“I think if he would’ve been healthy most of the year and kept playing the way he was playing, he might be an all-star now,” Wall said. “I think we’re both improving our games and we’ve got a chance to be one of the best back courts in the league. He has all the tools to be the best two guard in the league. We want to be the best. We got a great opportunity.”
Beal certainly has goals of being an all-star and eventually playing on an Olympic stage, but the 20-year-old doesn’t want to get ahead of himself.
“This is all a process,” he said. “Just the fact of actually being here, knowing how tough it is. I've got to continue to work and work and hopefully, I'll be the best two guard in the league.”
When asked to name the league’s best point guard, Beal replied, “John Wall.”