Count Leonsis, Wall among James's fans
Monday, November 29, 2010
MIAMI - Even before "The Decision" made him a leaguewide villain, LeBron James was disliked and resented by a large faction of the Washington Wizards' fan base because of those three playoff defeats against the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2006 to 2008, his run-ins with former Wizard DeShawn Stevenson, the crab dribble and a litany of other perceived offenses.
But rookie John Wall was never around for that history between the Wizards and James, whom he calls his "big bro" and has leaned on for advice ever since he attended James's basketball camp in high school. James formed the "Y" at a Kentucky game last season and at one point attempted to recruit Wall for his LRMR marketing team. The two hung out during the NBA Finals in Los Angeles, where they talked at a lavish house party hosted by James.
A former No. 1 overall pick who arrived with unprecedented hype and expectations, James told Wall what to anticipate when he entered the league as the top choice.
"I had a great conversation with John," James said Friday in Miami. "I just told him, this is a dream that we all wanted to have and he should accept the challenge and know that it's a lot of things that's going to come with this game, more than just on the court, and if he [can] handle the things off the court, then the game becomes much easier for him.
"For me, if there is anything he ever needed or wanted to talk about, I'm still here for him," James said. "I talk to him a lot and give him encouragement. I've seen the ropes."
Wall did not practice Sunday and is still day-to-day with a bruised right knee as the Wizards (5-10) prepare to face James and his new team, the Miami Heat, for the first time Monday at American Airlines Arena. But James's words have followed Wall throughout the early part of his NBA career, which has already forced him to deal with more losses and injuries than he had hoped.
"He told me, 'Don't try to live up to the hype, just enjoy the moment and thank God that you have the opportunity to play basketball. Just have fun while you're out there,' " Wall said recently. "That's the main thing I'm trying to do, but at the same time, it's going to be a learning experience for me. I might get frustrated, but I realize I can't do that if I want to be a leader, because once I get down, my teammates get down and it breaks the team apart."
When they spent time together in Los Angeles - where Wall was training before the NBA draft - Wall was still uncertain that the Wizards would take him with the No. 1 pick, but he had a good inkling that he was headed to Washington. Still, Wall said he didn't try to make a recruiting pitch to James to join him with the Wizards, even though the team had the financial means to sign the league's two-time most valuable player to a maximum contract extension last summer.
"Nah. I never talked to him about nothing like that," Wall said. "It was the offseason, so I just let him focus on having a good time with his family and friends and it was all up to him. I never tried to do that. I just let him be."
Despite the history between the Wizards and James, owner Ted Leonsis said he heard a push from fans and some of his advisers to make a run at James.
"They said: 'Just go after him. It looks good. Maybe he'll want to come. You've got the first pick in the draft,' " Leonsis said in late September. "I go, 'Do you really think LeBron wants to come to Washington?' So what you're saying is, be inauthentic for the PR value. That's not me."
The Heat, Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers all made sales pitches to James in Cleveland before he decided to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. But the Wizards actually were able to use James in a different way to build a team around Wall - by taking advantage of teams that told their fans that they would chase James.