The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Colin Cowherd is coming around on John Wall

(By Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

The John Wall story has, by now, become inextricably linked with the Colin Cowherd story. Which is stupid.

John Wall is a superstar athlete who has evolved into one of the best basketball players in the world; Colin Cowherd is a sports-radio host who thrives on the sort of mealy, pointless controversies that diminish anyone who touches them, present company included. To focus on the latter is to sully the former.

But it’s also kind of interesting, and this week brought some sort of breaking point.

To understand this week, you have to understand how it started: with Colin Cowherd’s 2010 rant about Wall after the point guard did the Dougie before his first home game. Among the things this told Cowherd: Wall was “not a sharp guy,” Wall “will never have” an NBA ring, Wall is “all about him,” Wall is “gonna end up on the Iverson, Francis, Starbury [side],” and Wall is “gonna drive people nuts.” This poor judgment, Cowherd said, was a life sentence, because while “the haves get it early, the have-nots never do.”

Sports-radio hosts require sports-radio listeners, and this got some for Cowherd. It was just his opinion, he said, and he delighted in it. And so about a week later, Cowherd talked Wall again. This time, he said Wall was “not gonna be a lot-of-titles guy, he’s not gonna be that guy.” He said the dance was absurd, childish and showed bad judgment. And he said this:

“Let me tell you something: I’m a big believer, when it comes to quarterbacks and point guards. Who’s your dad? Who’s your dad? Because I like confrontational players, I don’t like passive aggressive. Strong families equal strong leaders. Talent? Overrated. Leadership? Underrated. And you can say, well, Colin, can you just go out and say anything crazy and get people to e-mail. That’s not the point. You wouldn’t e-mail if I was an idiot, because you wouldn’t listen to the show. You listen to the show because we make good points … Don’t confuse [me saying] John Wall’s no good. No, John Wall’s an A+ talent. I don’t think he’s ever gonna be an A+ win-championships point guard.” …
“You know, John Wall and Vick are very similar. I’m not disputing their talent. I mean, Michael Vick and John Wall are fun to watch. But building my franchise around him, leadership position? I’m not giving Vick four-year deals, I’m not giving him $40 mil. No way. No. Way.”

At the time, Wall had just turned 20 21. And as the years went on, Cowherd continued to revel in his early realization that Wall was not going to cut it as a leader. He’s talked about Wall so, so many times, nearly always with a skeptical tone. Again, because of a dance.

Now, any of us who publicly express opinions on sports matters will be wrong. Often spectacularly so. I think the best thing you can do when that happens is just admit it, apologize when necessary, and move on. Cowherd finally issued something of a reconsideration of his Wall opinion on Tuesday, after Wall attracted an avalanche of national praise for his relationship with a little girl who died of cancer.

The host called Wall’s relationship with Miyah “really neat” and “incredibly touching,” and then he assessed the whole character issue.

“I’m not here to win some argument,” Cowherd said. “I had my opinion. You can have an opinion on my opinion; I never have an opinion on your opinion of my opinion. I don’t care. I’m in the opinion business. Fire away.

“Do I think John Wall has grown up? Absolutely. Do I think he was immature when he broke into the league? Absolutely … The first couple of years he was a turnover machine and couldn’t shoot because he took lousy shots. Do I think he’s evolved? Yes. Do I think he’s matured? Absolutely. Do I think he’s got character? Yeah. You don’t play defense like that without deeply caring about teammates … John Wall plays real defense. He’s got real character.

“Was I too harsh on him?” Cowherd asked. “Eh, I host a radio show, I do basically 30 columns a day. But if you’re looking for apologies, you’re fishing off the wrong pier. I say what I mean, I mean what I say, and you begging to try to get attention’s never going to happen. Ever. John Wall has grown. Hopefully, over five, six years, so have I …

“He needed to grow up, and he has. Good for him. What he did last night was terrific. He is now certainly an all-star. I still don’t think they’ll win a title, but it won’t be because of John Wall. It’ll be because LeBron plays in the East.

“When he broke into the league, I thought they’re not going to win a title — that’s not a leader,” Cowherd said. “Point guards, quarterbacks, got to be leaders. But if they don’t win a title now, it’s not because of John Wall. He’s a very good player, he’s matured a ton, he works his butt off and he has character. And I believe that. I’m a big believer in that … I didn’t see that early in college, I didn’t see that early in his NBA career. He’s got a reservoir of character that I see every night when he plays, absolutely.”

That’s as close as Cowherd would venture to an apology, and indeed, on the main point — that Wall is not a leader and that Wall shows poor judgment — Cowherd has backed down entirely. But remember, his original words were a bit nastier than he recalled. He said Wall wasn’t a sharp guy, would never win a ring, will drive people nuts, and is very similar to Michael Vick. And he said this “growth” he now praises was impossible.

“The haves get it early; the have-nots never do,” he said.

But don’t worry about the semantics of his non-apology. Cowherd was wrong. He now knows he was wrong. And everyone knows he knows he was wrong. That’s kind of comforting, whether or not he ever has an opinion on your opinion of his opinion.