We need John Wall to do well in these playoffs.
Sports are a weird beast in that we consume them dually. We watch live events consisting of living people and experience them as they come and go, but our memory lacks the processing power to retroactively store them in our mind as a continuum. No matter how much a series of events affects us, they will inevitably be filed away as a discrete number of occurrences. At best, we may be able to expand that discrete number – I’m sure there are savants out there that can remember every possession played in a certain game, whereas others may just retain a few scattered highlights and the main happenings of the final 2 minutes – but it will remain discrete nonetheless.
But since we know that sports did not happen discretely, we need to fill in the blanks between point in time T and point in time T + dt. And so we create stories. Stories to tell our children and grandchildren, stories to tell our friends, stories to rehash with ourselves as we fondly recollect upon that one playoff run. Narrative has become something of a bad word amid analytic truths, but they are what repels us and draws as back in to this beautiful game.
The superstar narrative is a powerful one. We like singular heroes facing insurmountable tasks so much that almost all human storytelling is built around it. Hercules, Oedypus and Achilles have evolved into Superman, Batman and the Brooklyn Knight, but we are no different than our earliest predecessors – we want to hear about that individual that distinguished himself from the pack behind him to face the challenge ahead. Personal taste can dictate if that hero must succeed or fail, but there are prerequisites to telling the story in the first place. We need to know them, from backstory to current arsenal, and we need to see them in the face of conflict. Nobody begs their parents to be told the tales of John Doe Goes To The Supermarket before they go to bed.
The NBA is considered to be in great shape recently. Superstars have a lot to do with that – a league pass rat can take solace in a solid Matthew Dellavedova showing, but what the NBA sells to the casual fan better than any other sport are those spools around which stories can be woven. And there has been a healthy recent influx of such talent, stretching from those late 1990s titans who have held on against age, through the historic 2003 draft, all the way up to the incoming 2014 class. Just glance at the 2012 US Olympic team, followed by a glance at who was left off. There are flag bearers galore.
The taglines write themselves. Chris Paul, hall of fame point guard who has yet to taste minimal postseason glory. Blake Griffin, re-definer of Youtube. Stephen Curry, best shooter of all time. James Harden, former third banana, dishonorably discharged because he was willing to compromise on the exposure his job offered but not the wages he was paid for it, only to be exposed as a lead. LaMarcus Aldridge, final remain of a once great era that knees prematurely derailed, together with Damian Lillard, anonymous mid-major graduate turned stone blooded killer. Zach Randolph, ferociously no-nonsense redemption story adopted by ferociously no-nonsense redemption town. Dirk Nowitzki, geographic and stylistic revolutionary trying to once again conquer the world he irrevocably altered.
There greatest common denominator with all these faces? We know them. We’ve seen them before and liked what we saw enough to buy in for sequels. It’s much harder to establish a superhero from scratch than it is to build on an existing legacy – it’s why Hollywood is so much more comfortable acquiring rights to comic books that are already household names. It’s why, even with the bevy of names mentioned earlier, it’s still easier to single out LeBron or Durant or Duncan or even the decrepit Nets guys as main attractions.
But somehow, in the current Eastern Conference, we don’t have too many familiar superstars. Derrick Rose’s injuries, the Knicks collapse denying us playoff Carmelo, and the KG/Pierce era Celtics dissipating have left the bracket right of the Mississippi with a fairly surprising amount of first timers. There are no established postseason superstars on the Raptors, Wizards or Bobcats, and the most-qualified member of the Hawks is out as well.
Wall is the prime candidate to occupy this vacuum. When at his best, he offers a brand of basketball – blurring up and down the court, exploding towards the rim or deftly guiding the ball towards an open teammate – that can hang with any other in entertainment value. He’s a modern point guard hybrid, possessing both the overpowering athleticism of Atlasian points such as Russell Westbrook or Derrick Rose, the quickness of sleeker scoring types Irving and Lillard, and the court vision of the older guard. His talent is so transcendent that he developed even while amid the Wizardly stench as Blatches and McGees fell to the wayside next to him.
And this is why we need to see as much of Wall as possible. This isn’t to say that a DeMar DeRozan, Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap can’t make this postseason his. On the contrary – all breakout stars are welcome in these realms. 2013 had Curry, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard all emerge, and was all the better for it. But Wall’s talent has a staying power that those other worthy all stars lack, and the market he plays in, if it ever achieves relevance, could be a major boon to the league. We need the word to be spread as soon and as vehemently as possible. We need John Wall to be a tenant of our next decade’s worth of stories.
For a while there, an underwhelming John Wall career was too possible an outcome. That fear has all but subsided, as Wall finally makes his playoff debut. All I ask is he strikes while the iron is hot. Be it an upset of the Bulls or a single epic individual series (with game 1 tilting heavily towards the latter), a highlight that is regurgitated throughout the next calendar year or a constant stream of positive play that aggregates over a series – I leave this to him. But John Wall is too good a basketball player, and will be such for too long, for him to not be a main feature in our annual April through June vignettes.
We need John Wall to do well in the playoffs, because we need more stories of John Wall. Lets make the first one a good one.