Less than two months after arguing about John Wall’s taste for D.C. nightlife, the Washington Wizards guard and Stephen A. Smith got into it again on New Year’s Eve. This time, they were clashing over Wall’s decision to undergo season-ending heel surgery, the motivations for which Smith had recently questioned.
In an indication that the beef between the five-time all-star and the ESPN uber-pundit was ramping up, Wall wondered aloud if Smith had “a personal problem” with him that went beyond the basketball court. While that offered reminders of the frequent criticisms of Wall made by another high-profile media personality, Colin Cowherd, Smith insisted that his comments were strictly “business” and “never personal.”
The latest exchange had its roots in a series of tweets posted by Smith on Saturday, in which he asserted, “I’m not about to question the legitimacy of [Wall’s] left heel injury,” but then went on to say, “I’m hoping this brother returns IN SHAPE, ready to validate that $170 mil he’s about to get over the next 4 seasons … instead of leaving us wondering if he’s calling it a season because he ain’t about to make an All-Star team.”
Speaking to reporters Monday about his thought process behind opting for the procedure, which Wall said he hoped would forestall a more severe injury “down the road” that might keep him on the shelf for much longer than his expected six-to-eight-month recovery time, he made it clear that he was aware of Smith’s comments.
“It don’t bother me. It’s like this: If you have a personal problem with me, come talk to me like a man,” Wall said of Smith’s tweets. “If you want to talk about me as a basketball player, that’s fine. I’m cool with that. I can take that criticism; that’s what comes when you’re that guy.
"But when you want to take things to a personal level, you can have a conversation with me one-on-one as a man. If you don’t like me, you just don’t like me, I’m fine with that. I might not like you neither. That’s cool.”
Smith saw a reference by NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes to those remarks on Twitter Monday and went on another tweetstorm, saying, “I don’t want to hear a damn thing from Wall about talking to him man-to-man. I showed at one game and waited for him in the locker room; he wouldn’t come out.”
Smith claimed that he “showed up again” at a Wizards home game against the Celtics earlier this month, only to find that Wall “still didn’t want to talk.” The “First Take” personality added, “I’ve said nothing to take back and I damn sure don’t hide from anyone. What I said about Wall not being in great shape and struggling periodically was FACT.”
“So the next time [Wall] or any player tells you they are looking for me for a man to-man [conversation],” Smith tweeted at Hughes, “tell them to name the time and place and I’ll show up. I’d welcome it … even on my damn vacation. I’m not the one hiding. Never have! Never will!”
Smith’s mention of trying to speak with Wall at the Celtics game was too much for the latter to bear, apparently. Using an “LOL” to scoff at his antagonist’s claims, Wall tweeted that Smith walked past him at that event with his “head down” after the guard received an X-ray examination of his foot. Wall told Smith to “stop hidin,” and repeated his suggestion that the ESPN pundit had some sort of “personal” issue with him.
In his tweets Monday, Smith also referred to his back-and-forth with Wall in November, when the Wizards had gotten off to a 2-9 start. That began with him saying on “First Take” that the “situation” with the 28-year-old was “so bad” that Smith was “getting pictures of John Wall off the court, [where] people are seeing him.”
“They’re bringing up Rosebar, one of the most popular nightclubs, if not the most popular nightclub, in Washington, D.C.,” Smith said. “They’re talking about off-field habits. John Wall, pay attention!”
In an Instagram Live session shortly thereafter, Wall said, “I do go to Rosebar on Saturdays. What, not supposed to party once in a blue while? The f---?"
Smith hasn’t always made a point of criticizing Wall, and in January 2017, he claimed that he needed to “apologize” to the guard because the latter had “not gotten enough recognition.” Smith said at the time, “When is somebody going to stand up and give John Wall of the Washington Wizards his love? Is anybody going to stand up and give it to him? Somebody’s got to give this dude love in the nation’s capital.”
A month later, Wall was a guest on “First Take” when Smith told him, “I consider you to be one of the premier guards in the entire NBA, who’s gone widely unnoticed.” When Wall went so far as to assert that he was the best point guard in the league, Smith did not yelp in disbelief, as he often does in the show, but instead declared that he was under “the impression” that the Wizards didn’t just “want to win” but wanted to go through the Cleveland Cavaliers, then with LeBron James, en route to the NBA Finals.
That didn’t happen, as Washington fell to Boston in seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and early in the next season, Smith was ranting on “First Take” that Wall needed to “shut the hell up.” That was in response to Wall’s assertion that he would show the Lakers' Lonzo Ball “no mercy” in an October 2017 matchup, only to play poorly as Washington lost to Los Angeles.
“You’re going up against a rookie last night, and what do you do? You shoot 7-of-22 from the field, after all of that jibbering and jabbering y’all were doing, that bloviating, really?” Smith asked, referring to Wall’s boast and a comment by then-Wizards center Marcin Gortat that his teammate would “torture” Ball throughout the game. His voice rising, Smith exclaimed, “This is disgraceful, as far as I’m concerned, it’s inexcusable, and the Washington Wizards need to be called out on it.”
On Monday, Smith was not about to let Wall get the last word, to no one’s surprise. In response to the Wizard’s tweet about him “hidin,” Smith said that was “flat-out false” and that he does not “run from face-to-face discussions.”
“I’m not rooting against you,” Smith said to Wall. “But make no mistake, I will do my job. It’s never personal; it’s business. Your skills/talents/production are on public display. Therefore it’s open to being critiqued, as are mine.”
Read more from The Post: