John Wall leaned back in a folding chair, left leg stretched out, as he applied his signature to photographs, bobble head dolls, T-shirts and sneakers during a promotional event on Thursday for his new signature Reebok shoe.
Wall bobbed his head and mouthed the lyrics of the hip-hop music blaring from the Foot Looker at Prince George’s Plaza Mall in Hyattsville, then he dropped his black Sharpie and let the dozens of fans inside witness the limits of his basketball-related activities. He walked over to a set of makeshift Pop-A-Shot machines and took on all challengers with a series of underhanded, Rick Barry-style shots.
“You can’t shoot on that goal regular style, you’re really going to miss,” Wall said with a grin, noting how some of his opponents, and his even best friend, Ty Williams, launched shots over the entire contraption. “We had a couple people win, but then I kind of got serious and won.”
The mini-hoop interaction with fans will have to help satiate Wall’s competitive drive for the time being, with a stress injury in his left knee keeping him sidelined for the next six weeks. Wall would like to be back in time for the Washington Wizards’ game in New York on Nov. 30 but that will require a few more maddening days and patience because he still “can’t run, can’t jump. Can’t do nothing.”
The Wizards (1-4) want to keep Wall around and engaged. He has traveled with the team for road games to receive treatment on his injured left knee, watch games and practices, and learn Coach Randy Wittman’s system. He wears his game warm-ups – not a sport coat – on the bench, offers tips to teammates based on his observations and cracks jokes in the locker room to maintain that connection.
Practices are perhaps the hardest, and Wall admits that he sometimes has to leave to go to the training room, “so that I don’t have to think about it.” Wall is always around for the conclusion to shoot free throws with his teammates and he recently started working on stand-still dribbling drills with assistant coach Ryan Saunders.
“It’s very tough being injured. Frustrating. I don’t like it, but I like the way my team is playing,” Wall said. “They are playing hard and they are competing. It’s a great opportunity for a lot of guys to step up, so they can build their confidence up. So if I come back, or Nene come back, or Kevin [Seraphin] come back, a lot of guys have confidence so nobody is stepping on toes and they feel more comfortable in those situations. In the four games they lost, they gave themselves chance to win in about three of them and lost by two or three.”
Reebok is ushering a new campaign this week for Wall Season 3 ZigEscape, which is available at Foot Locker and Reebok.com for $115. And in many ways, having his own shoe and a logo have been cathartic for Wall, giving him a constant reminder of how far he has come. It’s still only been five years since he was that unknown rising high school junior with an awkward Mohawk from Raleigh, N.C., who showed up for a Reebok camp in Philadelphia and left on a skyrocket to becoming the No. 1 overall pick.
“When you’ve got your own logo, it brightens your day. You wouldn’t think you’d be in a situation where you have your own shoe, or anything like that,” Wall said. “It’s still kind of shocking, a dream come true, to be in this situation. That’s big and going into my third season, this is a big year, basketball wise and marketing wise, to try to see what you’re going up to be. I’m just ready to get out and play.”
Reebok is taking a different approach with its latest ad campaign, filming a more mature Wall and abandoning the cartoons that were used in previous commercials that highlighted his youth. His new commercial will premiere on Nov. 15 and it will showcase Wall in familiar landmarks from his home town and with friends he has known most of his life.
Wall was also very involved in the design of his latest shoe. He sought having his signature on the side and baseball stitching on the tongue and back of his shoes.
The baseball stitching seems like an odd choice since Wall’s career as a shortstop and pitcher came to an end when he was in fifth grade and an errant throw he broke his nose. He also had one of the worst first pitches ever at Nationals Park two years ago, when the ball slipped from his hand and bounced on the grass.
“I got to do that again,” Wall said with a laugh. The Nationals didn’t ask him to throw during the postseason but said he would’ve had to decline. “I didn’t want to do it for the playoffs, then do it bad and have them say they lost because of that…Probably, the pitch would’ve been worse than that, with the way that I’m injured. I can’t plant.”
Wall watched Game 5 of the Nationals’ division series against St. Louis from his room in Cleveland and was stunned, as many others, with the outcome.
“I was like, ‘They won this. They going to the next round,’ “ Wall said. “But it’s something they can learn and build and prepare themselves for next season. Hopefully they keep making it and have a chance to go to the World Series. That’s what you want to see with D.C. sports.”
Wall is anxious to get back and possibly help the Wizards end a four-year postseason drought, but he has been thrilled by the response he gets from fans in Washington. He was genuinely comfortable interacting with fans at Foot Looker, posing for pictures — he even allowed double takes for those who didn’t get clear images on their smartphones — and handing out autographed Wizards jerseys and black-and-white pairs of his shoes. The first two pair had their best sales in this market, according to Reebok.
“It’s very important to me,” Wall said. “It’s crazy. My shoe is doing pretty good, but we really haven’t done nothing as a team. I haven’t done anything to make myself more marketable and push myself on the basketball court. But this is a big year for the Washington Wizards to try to push and make the playoffs, because we got the pieces, we got the talent. The shoe will start selling more when you do good on the court.”