NEW ORLEANS — From the time he made his introduction at the University of Kentucky by creating his signature tea-kettle dance, John Wall has always been a showman.
When he made his home debut with the Washington Wizards, Wall again proved to be the entertainer when bobbed, dipped and did The Dougie when introduced.
Since, Wall has pared down some of his natural inclination toward flash. Saturday night at the slam dunk contest, however, he did not shy from center stage. The final competitor, Wall had the undivided attention of the crowd and delivered, soaring over Wizards mascot G-Man, taking the ball from the oversized blue character in one motion and throwing down an incredible reverse slam that allowed him to claim honors as the franchise’s first slam dunk champion.
“It’s a humbling experience for me, a great opportunity,” said Wall, who thanked his teammates, coaches and fans and dedicated the victory to his mother, Frances Pulley, who is hospitalized in North Carolina. “It was a big moment for me.”
G-Man stood near the basket and held the ball above his head as Wall ran toward him, leapt, took it from his hands, brought the ball below his knees and then whirled it back over his head for the slam. The dunk ensured that the Wizards would leave New Orleans with at least one trophy after Bradley Beal, Wall’s backcourt mate, finished second to San Antonio’s Marco Belinelli in the three-point shooting contest.
After Wall completed his dunk, the crowd roared and Wall slapped hands with Indiana Pacers forward Paul George. The two celebrated by doing the latest craze, bouncing side to side and whirling their arms with glee.
“Me and Paul was talking about it,” Wall said with a grin. “The new dance out is the NaeNae, so I decided to do the NaeNae.”
Wall didn’t need to wait for the results from the judges or the fans voting on social media. The reaction from the crowd was confirmation enough that he had completed the best dunk of the revamped competition.
Beal didn’t get a win, but he did get the approval of rapper Nelly who was seated courtside. Beal and Nelly go back, since the platinum-selling musician was formerly a star athlete at University City High in suburban St. Louis, where Beal’s mother, Besta, was a physical education teacher and athletic director.
Beal didn’t know that Nelly would be in town for all-star weekend but ran into him before the competition. Nelly was surrounded by Drake and a few other rappers and started pumping up Beal. He told Beal, “We got some nonbelievers, so we got to show them what we’re capable of doing.”
Beal said he replied, “Okay. I got you.”
But when he stepped to the his first rack of balls, Beal said nerves immediately kicked in. He settled down and when his final money ball from the right corner dropped, Beal leaned back to his left and Nelly hopped from his seat, shoved Beal in the back and then slapped him on the shoulder. Beal finished with the highest score of the first round at 21 and advanced to face Belinelli, the representative from the Western Conference who scored 19 despite shooting an air ball and an all-glass brick.
“Nelly was probably more hype than I was. Whenever you have a guy like that who supports you, he’s well known and has done so many things for me and everything like that, you’ve got to love that,” Beal said, while adding, “I wish I could’ve saved a few of those for the last two rounds.”
In the tiebreaker, Belinelli scored 24 and Beal could only look on, stunned. “I said something I can’t say right now,” Beal said, when asked what he was thinking. “But he shot the ball well. Got to give credit where it’s due.”
Wall was inspired to do the dunk after receiving a link from a fan on Twitter that had the 27 dunks that haven’t been done in the contest. The reverse that he converted was the first one that he saw and practiced it for the first time on Thursday. He only needed one attempt on Saturday. Dunk legend Dominique Wilkins called it, “One of the best I’ve seen in a long time.”
Magic Johnson declared, “John Wall just brought the dunk contest back.” And Julius Erving agreed, stating that the dunk contest “has returned.”
Under new rules, Wall was a part of a three-man team representing the Eastern Conference, along with George and last year’s champion Terrence Ross of the Toronto Raptors. That trio defeated the Western Conference team of Sacramento’s Ben McLemore, Golden State’s Harrison Barnes and Portland’s Damian Lillard. Wall, George and Ross also won their individual battle, with Wall needing to top a dunk by McLemore in which the rookie hurdled a seated Shaquille O’Neal and received a crown.
“Why not go out there and have fun?” Wall said. “I think it was a great opportunity for me to be in my first all-star to out there and show what I can do.”