When Cliff Beckford learned in December 2020 that John Wall, the former No. 1 draft pick and decades-long face of Washington’s NBA franchise, had been traded to the Houston Rockets in exchange for former All-Star point guards, his reaction was quick .
“I was upset,” Beckford said. “You can quote that.”
That wasn’t the mindset of a general manager concerned about Russell Westbrook’s fit alongside his new Wizards teammates. Beckford is executive director of Lydia’s House, a nonprofit foundation that supports at-risk families in Washington’s poorest neighborhoods, particularly in the Seventh and Eighth Wards in the city’s southeast.
A few months earlier he had received a call: The John Wall Family Foundation was looking for organizations to work with during the COVID-19 pandemic. He couldn’t sign up fast enough to be part of a rent relief fund.
“The timing was just perfect,” said Beckford. “Can you imagine what was going on with those families back then? They lost their jobs, the economy was at a standstill, people not only had to pay rent but also put food on the table.”
A donation from Wall and a fundraiser supported by his foundation eventually raised more than $600,000, which was distributed to more than 450 families in districts seven and eight, Beckford said. He knew Wall’s interest in supporting the area was no outsider.
“From a CEO’s point of view, yeah, my goodness, keep him, don’t trade him!” said Beckford.
When Wall returns to Washington as the Clippers’ backup guard Saturday, it won’t be his first visit since the Houston trade. But this will be his first game in his former arena in which the fans can fully participate, giving the opportunity for a real reunion between a city that has placed its hopes in Wall and a player who invests his passion in the city Has.
“They’ve always stayed with me, so I think I’ve touched the city and it makes me feel at home because I get so much love there,” Wall said. “Super excited to be back.”
Fans watched as Wall formed five All-Star teams and produced the defining moment of the Wizards’ final decade – his game-winning shot in Game 6 of a 2017 second-round series against Boston – when he was 26 years old.
Community leaders saw him raise bursary funds, give out turkeys, and host movie nights for children during the Christmas season.
“I think it’s going to be a celebration of love,” said Michael Lee, a Washington Post reporter who covered Wall’s first four seasons.
“Up here, they love him more for his community work than what he’s done on this 94-by-50 building,” said Miles Rawls, who runs the Goodman League in the southeastern Barry Farm neighborhood and has been with Wall since arriving in the year 2010 knows. “It’s kind of a basketball deal based on what you’ve been doing for me lately, but if you’re in the community, man, and looking after all these non-wealthy folks whenever that special time comes , it sets a great precedent. You don’t forget it.”
Rawls certainly hasn’t forgotten that Wall could have hosted his foundation’s five-year anniversary in a fancier part of town. Instead, he and his mother, Frances Pulley, handed out 5,000 backpacks of school supplies on the asphalt of a Barry Farm Court on a “200-degree” summer day.
Tamara Perez, a former family and community engagement manager at Bright Beginnings, recalls presenting a $400,000 check in 2015 to open a second center for the charity that helps children of the homeless prepare for kindergarten to prepare. And then he stayed, hanging out with kids. When the center opened in the city’s southeast, it featured a “John Wall Wall of Achievement” that highlighted student achievement.
Coressa Williams, the founder of Building Hope, which provides end-to-end services for displaced single parents and their children, recalls that Wall has personally attended every event his foundation hosts, such as when Wall received a Dave & Buster’s for a back-to-back school trip. Williams has worked with numerous athletes. None were as active or showed up as regularly as Wall, she said.
“Even though he’s been gone for three years or more, the legacy he left is still shaped because a kid always knows that [genuineness] someone’s love,” Williams said.
“It’s pretty profound and I don’t say that lightly, really.”
Wall arrived in 2010 as a “skinny kid with no facial hair, no tattoos just trying to understand what the NBA is about,” he said, and with pressure to do so quickly with the Wizards in rebuild mode. Wall danced the “Dougie” in his first home game, then erupted to star like one of his full-speed, full-court transition dunks and became the team’s first native star by draft since Wes Unseld, Lee said.
Since the Unseld-sponsored Finals in back-to-back 1978 and 1979, the franchise has won five playoff series; Wall was involved in three of them.
There will be debates about the injuries that plagued his final seasons, the unfulfilled promise on the pitch, the pairing with Bradley Beal that failed to settle with a final. Wall’s undisputed DC legacy, Rawls said, was that the guard raised in Raleigh, NC, embraced the least affluent neighborhoods more tightly than many who grew up in the area.
The day after he signed a five-year, $80 million contract extension in 2013, Wall wept as he spoke about his mother and announced he was discussing a partnership with a foundation set up by the ownership group of the Wizards would donate $1 million to local charities.
“He did it with such a passion for the city, and he was out and about, he went to the clubs, he went to the community, he gave to single moms, and he was so committed, it was a reality, an authentic character for.” him,” Lee said. “You could tell it wasn’t acting.”
Other athletes turned down Rawls’ requests to visit places like Barry Farm, Robinson Place, Congress Heights, and Bellevue. Wall drove his Bentley to Goodman League games. The visibility gave him credibility that his NBA honors alone could not match.
“I’m talking about the beast of the east, what they call the Southeast,” Rawls said. “They loved him because he was real.”
Wall said he followed the example of others who invested in his success growing up. He spent his days playing basketball at the Raleigh Boys Club. Back home, his mom “taught me trying to be a better person than being a better basketball player is known for that,” Wall said.
Several people underscored the influence of his mother, who died of cancer in 2019.
“Just understanding where I’m coming from, Section 8, not really having nothing and being able to be in DC and see how that environment is constantly playing out across the city,” he said.
An additional part of his motivation for connecting with DC, according to Wall, was knowing his family’s roots. His father, John Sr., grew up in the area. Wall Sr. spent much of his life in prison and died of liver cancer at the age of 9.
“He didn’t have to do that,” Beckford said. “Boys often say, ‘We owe this to our community.’ In theory they do. But in reality you have to have a heart and I think John has a heart to put back.”
Wall became friends with Miyah Telemaque-Nelson after learning of the 6-year-old’s lymphoma diagnosis. He wrote her name on his shoes, took to social media to advocate meeting Nicki Minaj, and spoke at her funeral in 2014.
Through a city program that matches professional athletes with elementary schools for a year, Wall “adopted” Ketcham Elementary in southeast DC in 2020 — and then stayed for two years. Maisha Riddlesprigger, Headmaster at Ketcham for eight years, said Wall exceeded the school’s expectations by sponsoring school-wide Christmas gifts, a movie night, the rental of a TopGolf for teachers and staff and attending a virtual staff meeting.
“Everybody freaks out because it’s John Wall,” she said.
What will last most was his help in creating a scholarship fund for Ketcham’s 2020 fifth class, said Riddlesprigger, who now leads the Elite Overtime Academics. Wall pledged $5,000 to each student in the class who graduates from high school while meeting GPA criteria, according to a spokesman for his foundation.
“You’ll never hear me say anything bad about John Wall,” Riddlesprigger said.
Wall was seven seasons into his career when his game-winning shot defeated the Celtics in the 2017 postseason, and he jumped onto a scorer’s table while flashing the “Washington” on the chest of his jersey. Amid the celebrations, he declared Washington his city.
For Williams, the founder of Building Hope, this was no idle talk. For this reason, more than five years later, she plans to appear in the same arena on Saturday with 27 children of her organization in tow. They will be seated in a lower pool area alongside other children that Wall has obtained tickets for. He expects more than 100 participants.
“They’re going to scream when they see John Wall back in that arena,” Williams said. “You love John Wall. I will scream too.”
https://www.latimes.com/sports/clippers/story/2022-12-09/los-angeles-clippers-john-wall-heroic-generosity-washington-dc ‘It’s pretty profound’: John Wall’s community heroics in D.C.