TORONTO — John Wall glanced at a photo from September, taken after the Washington Wizards’ final practice of training camp. Wall’s back is to the camera and his shirt is pulled up, revealing a torso sculpted into a V — a body that looked ready for a beach photo shoot. Months later, Wall scoffed.
“If you look at the front,” Wall said Monday, “I was fat.”
Wall quickly sensed a look of incredulity, and defended his self-criticism.
“I was,” he said. “Just being realistic.”
Wall started his eighth season fresh off the most rigorous summer of his career. For all that training, he craved shrimp fried rice, chugged chocolate milk despite being lactose intolerant and even treated himself to steaks once in a while. His weight, listed at 210 pounds, crept up to 222.
In late January, surgery to clean up his left knee sidelined Wall. After eight weeks of rehabilitation, the five-time all-star returned to the starting lineup with a remolded body.
Wall has dropped almost 15 pounds, according to his estimation and his personal chef. When the subject of his toned body came up recently, Wall playfully pretended he hadn’t undergone a transformation.
“My weight loss?” he asked. “I’ve been eating Debbie Cakes, girl!”
His new diet, obviously, has a bit more sophistication than that. The high-sodium meal of shrimp fried rice has turned into shrimp and vegetables sauteed in avocado oil, substituting cauliflower for rice. Ginger lemon tea has replaced chocolate milk. Salmon instead of red meat. And for a man who notoriously loves candy and snacks, Wall now nibbles on gluten-free kettle chips with zero saturated fat.
“We track him all the time [during Wall’s rehabbing]…. You could tell that he’s lost some weight,” Wizards Coach Scott Brooks said. “But it’s good. It’s going to be good for his long-term recovery.”
The dietary change has showed on the court. Wall has been able to play 36 minutes or more in three of the five games since his return. As Washington seeks to climb out of a 1-0 hole in its first-round playoff matchup with the Toronto Raptors, Wall will need to carry more of the weight.
“I feel way better,” Wall said. “My first game back against Charlotte [March 31], when I put my jersey on it looked different, like, I was skinny. I felt way skinnier than what I was when I first started playing at the beginning of the year.”
Wall’s weight loss was part of a carefully thought-out plan by his team and executed by chef Horatio Smith, whom Wall met last summer during a break from his training to relax in the Bahamas. Wall landed on the island feeling under the weather. At his rented luxury villa, he requested chocolate milk. Smith, who is Bahamian, suggested a better drink for recovery and stirred up a pitcher of ginger tea, which was new to Wall. So was the meal of mussels that Smith created (“I hate mussels,” Wall had told Smith). The Wizards guard quickly became a fan of the foreign foods and hired Smith as his personal chef. He also started cutting out the bad stuff.
“John, he loves chocolate,” Smith said. “He loves, loves chocolate but chocolate actually messes with his digestive system. His body becomes inflamed.”
Inflammation was a major target for the dietary tweaks — after all, Wall required the surgery because his left knee was inflamed. Smith cooked with spices such as turmeric and curcumin known for anti-inflammatory properties.
Early in the season, Wall ate clean but still enjoyed rice once a week and a steak on rare occasions. Ahead of the late January surgery, Smith entirely eliminated starch and bread from Wall’s diet, only allowing protein, fruits and vegetables. Every meal was prepared with a purpose. Portions were trimmed.
“Before I came back from this injury, I didn’t have red meat anymore,” Wall said. “I just stuck to fish and chicken and that was it. Like, no pasta and stuff like that.”
Wall has also cut down on alcohol. Drinking wasn’t a bad habit, Wall said, just an occasional treat when he was hanging out. If he drinks now, it’s a glass of wine, though he’s mostly consuming water. Wall has pina coladas for breakfast, but with Smith’s twist: coconut milk, coconut chips, fresh orange juice, a pinch of sweetener and chunks of pineapple (the fruit also has anti-inflammation properties).
“We’ve cut out about 60 percent of the sugar that he would be taking in the past years and cut out all the saturated fats,” Smith said from Wall’s residence in Potomac, Md. “Now that he’s lighter and leaner, it’s easier for him to maneuver. It’s easier for him to move. And he feels better and in turn that makes him want to eat cleaner.”
While in Toronto, Wall finds meals at restaurants and the team hotel similar to what he has at home. He can eat mussels every day of the week (“I love this stuff,” Wall has told Smith) and be perfectly content without touching another Debbie Cake. Instead, “I have all this gluten-free and all this crazy candy and snacks that my chef’s got with no sugar involved,” Wall said.
Brooks has noticed the transformation, but can only shake his head when he hears about Wall’s earlier critique of his body.
“If he thinks he was fat, I want his fat,” Brooks said. “Professional athletes are so funny. They think two or three pounds makes them slow or stronger. I think with him, I think it’s good to keep his weight where it is now. The last couple years he’s had knee surgery, so it’s always good to lessen the load. But he’s always been in good shape.”
Wall reported having a six-pack of abs after surgery and rehabilitation; his stomach wasn’t that carved in September. He likes being 207 pounds and plans to stay there, even if it means giving up shrimp fried rice.