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John Wall sees the posters of himself around town, and knows that he’s one of the highest paid players in the NBA.
But he hasn’t forgotten about what Frances Pulley, his late mother, sacrificed to make sure he could participate in basketball camps. Wall’s father, John Carroll Wall Sr., died of cancer at age 52 when Wall was just 9-years-old, and his mother raised him and his siblings on her own.
So when he learned of the devastation COVID-19 was causing to D.C. residents, particularly those located in Ward 8, he thought of ideas to give back, ultimately coming up with the “202 Assist” program, a rent relief fund for those in need.
“A lot of those families were already having a tough time paying rent,” Wall told reporters Tuesday in a conference call. “When you see that—and I come from that type of environment, understanding what they’re dealing with every day. I know, with my mom having a job and barely being able to put food on the table—now imagine if she didn’t have a job. There were times when we couldn’t pay the light bill.”
The Wizards’ practice facility, which is also home to the Washington Mystics and Capital City Go-Go, is located in Congress Heights. Even before the pandemic ravaged the area, Wall remembers seeing people wait in lines to get meals. Despite having a Peloton and basketball court at his home in Potomac, Wall often opts to ride his bike in the Ward 8 area to stay in shape, something for reasons beyond conditioning. Wall said he does it to show his face in the community and connect with the children in the neighborhoods.
“Monumental Sports has been trying to uplift that area,” Wall said. “We put our team over there to give it life, to give people an opportunity to go to games. It’s a dope thing to be involved in the community. Mystics and Go-Go games are packed. They’re a tremendous part of us as an organization that we pride ourselves off of.”
Mayor Muriel Bowser will also have a role in Wall’s latest initiative in Ward 8, a community in D.C. that Wall likens to one from his childhood.
“Being in the area, where I grew up in North Carolina, we went through these types of times—probably not at this level, but knowing there were times when you didn’t know whether you’d have a roof over your head or whether you would have something to eat,” Wall said. “That was a big factor to me.”
In a way, the Ward 8 community has become a second family to Wall. Back in 2015, Wall donated $400,000 to Bright Beginnings—a D.C. nonprofit with a presence in Ward 8 dedicated to helping children experiencing homelessness. He’s maintained a connection to the community, and the organization, ever since.
Even though Wall says he’s feeling “110 percent healthy,” he likely won’t be playing competitive basketball anytime soon. He last appeared in a game on Dec. 26, 2018, and even if the NBA returns this summer in an isolated capacity at Walt Disney World, as it’s been discussed, the coaching staff will keep Wall away from playing actual game minutes.
Instead, the Wizards want him to continue rehabbing his achilles, building camaraderie with the team through scrimmages and practices. The team has accepted that, by the time Wall does come back, two whole years will likely have lapsed since he last put on a Wizards jersey.
Basketball, though, remains a large part of his life. Wall said he’s still watching game tape, and has enjoyed seeing his teammate Bradley Beal morph into a star. Wall has become notorious for his attention to detail, and he embraced a role as an assistant coach this season with the Wizards, which welcomed his nuanced approach around the developing group of players.
But when he’s not watching basketball during his time in quarantine, or caring for his young son, Ace, Wall is determined to remain involved with the D.C. community.
“We’re in it with you,” he said. “We’re fighting with you. Keep fighting, and stay safe. This is why I wanted to do this, to try and take that burden off your back, to have your rent paid for.”