WASHINGTON – John Wall was driven in an SUV-size limo to the Verizon Center, where he stepped onto a red carpet surrounded by scores of fans who cheered, craned their necks and did their best to snap photos of the Washington Wizards’ No. 1 overall draft pick.
Once inside the arena, he learned that the mayor had proclaimed Friday as “John Wall Day” – an honor Alex Ovechkin didn’t get until winning a league MVP. Wall also watched a video that welcomed him to the nation’s capital, with greetings from local sports stars Donovan McNabb, Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman and Ovechkin, who spoke in Russian and did his own fist-rotating imitation of the John Wall Dance.
There were also posters and a massive banner outside the arena proclaiming Wall as a “game changer” – complete with information for ordering tickets.
The Wizards, a team that needs all the positive vibes it can get, went about as over-the-top as they could to celebrate their new face of the franchise.
“To be on the red carpet, I felt like I was big time,” Wall said.
The hero’s treatment came one day after Wall was chosen at the top of the NBA draft, instantly making him the great hope for a team that in recent months defined the word embarrassment. He’s only 19 years old, but the Wizards made clear they’re pinning more than a wall’s worth of expectations on the point guard from Kentucky.
But was it all a bit too much, especially for someone yet to put on an NBA uniform?
Wall, coach Flip Saunders and team president Ernie Grunfeld all had essentially the same answer: It’s nothing compared to Kentucky.
“We had a lot of people here,” Saunders said. “At Kentucky, they would have opened up Rupp Arena and they would have had 20,000, so he’s used to this type of situation. He’s been through it so much it’s not going to affect him at all.”
The same arena used to be awash in Gilbert Arenas memorabilia, but nearly all of it was taken down when the three-time All-Star pleaded guilty in court to bringing guns to the locker room and was suspended 50 games by the NBA last season. Arenas is still with the team – under contract for four more years with a contract too rich to trade – but the Wizards are rebuilding their team and reputation around the new kid.
“Point guards are not made – they’re delivered from heaven,” Saunders said. “And I believe he was delivered from heaven.”