Originally Posted 2/27/2016
Anyone who watches Washington Wizards basketball knows that John Wall is the franchise. The guy does everything for this team: score, set up his teammates, rebound, swat shots, win dunk contests, etc. He has superstar talent and there is arguably no other player that is depended upon as much as John Wall. And yet, the Wallstar gets very little recognition nationally or even in the District. Through his interviews and his body language during home losses, you can tell this is becoming a little frustrating for him.
“The type of player I am, and person I am, character I have, I should be seen on commercials, in the nation’s eyes and the people’s eyes. And I haven’t,” Wall told Michael Lee of The Vertical. “I was everywhere (in Kentucky),” Wall said. “I ain’t got no billboard in DC.” But why isn’t John Wall getting more love? Especially in DC, where he made basketball relevant again for the first time since Agent Zero lost his mind and brought guns to the locker room. Let’s explore some of the reasons:
Washington is Primarily a Football Town: The biggest reason is that though the DC area has been known for producing some standout basketball talent, in terms of fandom, the city is completely enamored by football. The Redskins dominate the local sports radio, newspaper coverage, and barbershop conversations. No matter how bad the team is, and its had a remarkable record of futility the past two decades, Skins fans always want to talk about how they’re only a player or two away from a Super Bowl run or what should be done with the third string quarterback. The truth is that the Redskins are probably 20 years and a new owner away from ever being consequential in the NFL- but the fans will never realize that. And as long as that’s the case, John and the Wizards will always being playing second fiddle.
John is Playing During a Golden Age for DC Sports Stars: Not only does John Wall have to compete with the Redskins mania, but he’s also playing during a time when sports superstars are plentiful in the District. John is sharing the Verizon Center with perhaps the best hockey player in the world in Alex Ovechkin, and a few stops down on the Green Line, baseball phenom and NL MVP Bryce Harper is a must-see ticket. When it comes to billboards and local TV spots, there’s only so many to go around. And in the past few years, John Wall has faced stiff competition.
ESPN and TNT Won’t Broadcast Wizards Games: The Wizards aren’t the only team to experience this problem, but the national TV networks only schedule a handful of teams for the TV lineups, and Washington isn’t one them. It’s hard to get national visibility when ESPN would rather play Kobe getting blown out by the Grizzlies for the last time than let some young stars get some shine.
DC is a Melting Pot of Other Team’s Fans: With most federal agencies headquartered in and around DC, the area has become a collage of cultures from around the country and world. But while this makes the area a great place to visit or live in, it makes it a horrible place to build a basketball fanbase. Pacers, Blazers, Nuggets- No matter what team the Wizards play at the Verizon Center, there is always a strong contingent of opposing fans. And because this is probably those fans’ one chance to see their team, they always go all out with gear, cheers, and support. I was at a game last year, and found myself yelling to drown out Kings fans trying to turn “Let’s Go Wizards” into “Let’s Go Kings.” And when we play a team with a large bandwagon, like we will in a few hours against the Cavs, the Verizon Center is essentially a neutral location. Its no wonder John thinks fans are more excited about free Chickfila than a Wizards win- that’s the only thing that gets all fans on the same side!
“Wizards” Is a Horrible Name: A big part of this problem comes down to the organization’s horrible decision to name the team Wizards. A name and accompanying logo is essentially a marketing campaign, and branding your basketball team as Wizards has to be one of the worst marketing choices in sports history. Aside from the alliteration, what reason is there to associate your squad of supreme athletes with a fantastical being that uses sorcery? Sure, Gandalf and Harry Potter were awesome when I was in sixth grade, but back then I was a nerdy, prepubescent boy that read more books per year than I said words to girls my age. Swag and gear go along way toward making a particular team cool, and the image of a soothsayer twirling the ball on his finger didn’t do this team any favors in that department. The organization has finally eliminated that horrible logo, but they need to just change the name back to Bullets if they want to connect with city residents- ones from DC- and get them backing the team’s all star.
Other Reasons: Of course, these are just a few of the reasons that John Wall isn’t better regarded in the city where he’s making basketball fun for fans again after half a decade of being the league laughingstock. There’s the fact that he’s a distributor and play maker, rather than a flashy scorer who only tries to get buckets. There’s also the fact that DC sports fans are conditioned to expect disappointment, and are growing reluctant to get behind a player or team until they’ve won something, so as to not be let down again. And then there’s the fact the Ted Leonsis keeps raising ticket prices, and in doing so is pricing out the fans who would really get behind John and this team.
John is only 25 and entering into the prime of his career. While he surely gets frustrated that he’s not getting more accolades and recognition from the basketball world, he has a fighter’s mentality and knows that he just has to keep working and improving until he does. The front office can do a lot to cultivate the base of real WizKids fans- we do exist!- and let’s hope they do. Making the playoffs this year will be critical to keeping momentum, and the fact is that a win or two in a series against Lebron James will put John on the map like nothing else can. John Wall loves DC, so let’s love him back.