Pulitzer Prize-winning street bard Kendrick Lamar once mused, “Gang signs out the window, ya bish; hoping all of ‘em offend you, ya bish“, aptly describing the feelings of exuberance and invincibility that come from contorting your fingers into characters evoking the violent street gangs of urban American ghettos.
Now, you need not have been in a gang or party to gang violence to agree that throwing up gang signs can be quite the reckless exercise. Done in any situation of consequence, there’s only risk and no reward. On the wrong corner it could get you shot, witnessed by the wrong authority figure it could condemn you to a police database, or – as in the case of John Wall – picked up by the wrong Twitter account it could earn you rampant criticism and enmity. Still, there is something alluring and empowering about signaling to the world with your fingers that you’re a badass who just don’t give a F***.
That certainly seems to be why John Wall found himself compromised on video broadcasting via distinct hand signs his gang affiliations. After one too many drinks, against the backdrop of gangster rap and the recently extended NBA summer break, John gave one F*** too few and made an ass out of himself.
Hopefully John was sincere in the self-reflection that led to his public apology. Hopefully he thought long and hard about what he did wrong (pretty much everything captured in that video) and whether he should chill out a bit (he should). But hopefully his meditation didn’t stop there; hopefully he also thought about the external factors contributing to the interest in this story. Because as much as this news calls into questions Wall’s integrity, it even more loudly begs the questions of 1.) Who is leading the charge against John Wall’s character? and 2.) Why now?
In today’s self-righteous and sensitive culture, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that someone was offended by footage of an NBA star making hand gestures that represent violence and crime. However, this specific video becoming a trending topic is a bit curious when you take a second to envision the type of person that would take umbrage at John Wall throwing up his set and then ask yourself, ‘Why would this MAGA-supporter know who John Wall is?’ and ‘How would that yuppie recognize that as a gang sign anyway?’
In ten NBA seasons, John Wall has hardly ever received this much attention from the national media for his off-court engagements. Aside from an article on his recent apology, a search for “John Wall” on CNN yields few results and zero headlines going back several years. No one takes much, if any, notice of John’s community outreach – which in the past few months alone has included raising/donating money to provide DC’s poor with Covid-relief, leading protests against police brutality, and providing school supplies to underserved students. Wall’s not the star of any movie production, he doesn’t lead any big marketing campaigns, the tabloids don’t track who he’s dating or what he’s wearing; he simply doesn’t register on the national conscience. Until now, apparently. Why?
On ‘Money Trees’, the same track that King Kendrick quipped on the fun of throwing up gang signs, he also offered a poignant nugget of wisdom, rapping ‘money trees is the perfect place for shade.’ In laymen’s terms, having wealth will shield you from a lot of problems. Another parallel can be drawn from the song’s lyrics to John Wall’s life, where his guaranteed contract with nearly $133M remaining provides California redwood-sized cover from consequences for his indiscretion. Probably it was the very stability of his financial standing that had John feeling himself more than he should have in that video. However, as I’m sure he’s learning from this, the same pile of money that gives you shade can also be the reason you get shade thrown at you.
John Wall’s deal holds the distinction of most expensive NBA contract ever, for which it also earns near-universal regard as worst contract in the league. So, though we’ve seen players who make a distinctly smaller impact (cough – Tobias Harris) sign to far more egregious terms (cough – Tobias Harris), it only makes sense that people are suddenly concerned about a player who’s only suited up for 32 games over the past two seasons. Simply put, John has a big-box retailer-sized Target on his back. Like he’s on a trip to Barcelona, he can’t walk down the street without finding someone with their hands in his pocket and their minds on his money. Which likely explains the interest in this story – it was almost certainly buoyed by someone with a financial interest in John’s reputation going south. But who? That’s the tough thing to figure out, because there’s no shortage of people betting short on John Wall stock. Here’s just a short list of suspects:
Prospective NBA Trade Partner – As derided as Wall’s deal is, there are more than a handful of teams he could join and immediately be the best player. So, for all the talk of how ‘untradeable’ his contract is (looking at you The Ringer), there are surely several would-be suitors, especially if valuable assets could be landed for taking him on. If you’re Michael Jordan and interested in adding Wall, what better way to tip the trade balance in your favor than to help this story blow up? “Sure I can take that gangbanger off your hands, but only if you give me your first-round pick and Rui.. And you have to take back Rozier.”
Ted Leonsis – While the Wizards owner was initially relieved when John finally signed his supermax contract after first taking a couple months to mull it over, I doubt he’s remained quite as giddy about the checks he’s signing over to his star player. If Ted is looking to recoup some of the multi-millions he still owes (he clawed back a good chunk by making sure John sat out the NBA restart), might he have his front office hype up a story that could prove useful in a potential buyout negotiation?
CBA Lawyers for NBA Owners – With the NBA’s current collective bargaining agreement coming up for renegotiation shortly, the highly-paid legal representation of the league’s owners are going to be looking for any leverage they can get to siphon off more profits for themselves. Wall’s transgressions give them several angles to attack, providing supporting evidence against guaranteed contracts, against raising contract maximums, and against increased player power in general. Expect the owners’ lawyers to revisit this issue in particular the next time the players ask for still more concessions along the lines of promoting social justice – perpetuating Crips vs. Bloods is probably the most efficient way to undermine the whole BLM movement.
Baby Mama #1 or Baby Mama #2 – Without delving too much into Wall’s personal life, I think we can safely assume that this news story will be Exhibit A in the inevitable custody and/or child-support hearing(s) the NBA star will find himself a Defendant in over the next few years.
I’m no Kyrie Irving-enamored conspiracy theorist, but this John Wall story hitting the national airwaves stinks of something shady going on. How else to explain the overblown concern with a player far removed from the conscience of the average sports fan – during a wild and unprecedented postseason no less that’s producing an abundance of real NBA news? This story just doesn’t generate this level of intrigue organically. If you want definitive proof of that, look no further than complete indifference Wall received the last time he was caught on camera throwing up gang signs, during an NBA playoff game that would’ve carried higher expectations and been infinitely more widely viewed than footage from a house party.
Mo’ money, mo’ problems.
In conclusion, while we won’t be able to identify the culprit fanning the flames on John Wall hate (too many suspects to choose from), we can be pretty damn sure we’ll hear about this incident again on one front of the other. For John’s sake, here’s hoping he’s learned the most fundamental lesson from all this: Rep the District, and nothing else.