CHARLOTTE — Superstars typically don’t emerge from an arena loading dock late on a Saturday night. So imagine the surprise of the stragglers outside Spectrum Center when John Wall, accompanied only by his bodyguard and friend David “Flav” Best, as well as Washington Wizards equipment manager Dave Avery, strolled by on Caldwell Street.
When asked by fans, Wall would pull his hands from his jacket and sign autographs. He also posed for cellphone snaps. After satisfying every request, leaving an exuberant stranger in his wake, Wall walked on as the brightest bulb on a dimly lit street.
NBA superstars don’t usually do this. However, Wall believes NBA officials have not treated him like other superstars.
During the Wizards’ 98-93 loss to the Charlotte Hornets, a game in which he was called for his 14th technical foul, Wall’s frustration reached its season peak. More than a week ago in Sacramento, when Wall received another technical foul, his 12th, he spoke assuredly about getting the infraction rescinded by the league because he perceived his complaint as a light rebuke compared with the vulgar assailing, he says, many officials hear from other players.
But on this Saturday night, Wall held no confidence about the latest technical being removed. Wall only felt more certain in his theory that officials have him on a short leash. Now, Wall is on the verge of facing a one-game suspension if he reaches 16 technical fouls before the end of the regular season.
“I’m just tired of these B.S. technical fouls that I’m getting,” Wall said, his normal rapid-delivery voice still somehow calm and steady.
“It was just a back-and-forth talk. Just a common talk you have,” Wall said, explaining his conversation with Charlotte’s Frank Kaminsky, “and Danny [Crawford] just came in and said, ‘Technical fouls.’ I’ve heard worse than that before and vulgar words have been said, which weren’t said then, and then they just slap a technical foul. I’m getting tired of it.”
In Wall’s splendid seventh season, a year in which he has surpassed many of his career hallmarks, the most glaring defect has been his personal crusade against officiating.
On Nov. 7, the same night Wall moved ahead of Wes Unseld and became the franchise’s all-time leader in assists, he was ejected after receiving a pair of technical fouls. Official Marc Davis said he felt Wall had bumped into him and as he walked past “used vulgarity and inappropriate language.” Then on Dec. 21, Wall earned technical foul No. 8, which at the time tied him for the league lead alongside DeMarcus Cousins, for complaining to official Kane Fitzgerald about a defensive foul whistled against him. On Feb. 6, just two games past the break during which Wall had made his fourth all-star appearance, he got tagged for his 11th technical by official Eric Dalen. Wall later protested against “no-name guys getting calls” when he can’t get the same benefit of the doubt.
“You drive to the basket and get contact the whole game and try to make up for those calls the last two or three minutes of the game,” Wall said at the time. “It gets frustrating.”
Among players who have made at least 60 appearances and average a minimum of 30 minutes per game, Wall ranks fourth in the league with 11.6 drives per game, according to NBA.com. (The league defines drives as “any touch that starts at least 20 feet from the hoop and is dribbled within 10 feet of the hoop and excludes fast breaks.”) But even though Wall averages more drives than Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (11.3), Houston’s James Harden (10.7) and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan (10.3), he averages far fewer free throw attempts than all three. Wall’s 6.7 free throw attempts per game rank 15th in the league, behind players such as Eric Bledsoe, Damian Lillard and Joel Embiid, a rookie who played his last game of the season on Jan. 27.
Last year, when Wall averaged 8.0 drives per game and 4.5 free throws, he explained his 12 technical fouls as frustration over lack of calls. Now, since he has elevated his game, as well as his number of drives, his frustration has also heightened.
“They need to stop showing favoritism to certain players,” Wall said Saturday night. “If you’re going to give techs out, be consistent both ways with them.”
Wall’s frustration is shared by the Wizards.
Inside the organization, the belief is that Wall takes too many hits on his drives to the rim without getting consistent foul calls. Instead, Wall’s strength and speed has worked against him while referees allow grabbing and banging, then explain that Wall initiated the contact. During the Sacramento game, the source of Wall’s anger was that Darren Collison was permitted to forcefully place both hands on him while playing defense.
Even so, the team needs Wall to get over it. Instead of playing through the perceived missed calls, Wall has opted to complain throughout the games, allowing his emotions to bubble over. As the Wizards’ leader, Wall has to control his outbursts — something he has admitted to in the past. If he doesn’t, he could face a severe punishment that may hurt the team in its pursuit for the highest playoff seed possible.
Around 10:40 p.m. on Saturday night, Wall turned the corner onto Trade St. heading toward the team hotel. His long night as the headliner was nearly done. Besides the impromptu street autograph session, Wall had provided a charter bus and paid for tickets so his Team Wall boys and girls’ AAU squads based in Raleigh, N.C., could attend the game. Following the Wizards’ tough loss, Wall still greeted the kids and coaches and smiled for selfies.
Wall had performed like a superstar. Now he wants to be officiated like one.
“I see guys cussing refs out, taking the ball from refs, they don’t get technical fouls. I say one little, simple thing, it’s always a technical foul,” Wall said. “They always jumping the gun. Like, my 12th technical I got for saying ‘Don’t let the guy hold my jersey.’ If those are technical fouls, this league need to do something about it.”