Breaking the Mold: Juvenile Delinquent to NBA Star
From a sneering and violent teen to America’s number one high school basketball player, Johnathan Hildred Wall Jr. was able to leave behind his troubled past to become one of the best point guards in the NBA today.
John was picked first overall by the Washington Wizards in the 2010 NBA Draft and has quickly made his mark in the league. During his rookie season, he was named to the 2010-2011 All-Rookie team and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting. Since then, he has been selected to the 2014-2015 All-Defensive team and 2016-2017 All-NBA team. He is also a five-time All-Star and was crowned the 2014 NBA Slam Dunk Champion.
During his his early years, John formed special bond with his late father. Despite being in prison throughout his son’s childhood, John Carrol Wall Sr. still had a profound influence on his son.
“Our discussions were never about where you came from, but the places you wanted me to go. Looking back, there you were, an inmate locked away with not much of a future. But that didn’t keep you from encouraging me, a young boy, to get an education and to go to college,” John wrote in a touching letter to his father on The Undefeated.
Nearly every Sunday, the young John Wall and his family would travel to the state penitentiary to visit his dad.
“We’d make the two-hour drive every weekend to see you, sometimes rolling two cars deep. Some of the things I got used to in my early years were getting patted down and thoroughly checked by prison guards and walking down long prison corridors with the sounds of those prison gates opening and closing,” he recounts.
John’s father robbed a Raleigh convenience store in late September 1991 (just a few weeks after John’s first birthday). He was then convicted of robbery with a deadly weapon and was locked up for nearly seven years.
"We would see him for, like, an hour," he recalls. "When the gates closed, that was the last time we'd see 'em 'til the next weekend. He was good to us. You never thought, 'Oh, my father's in prison.' That was just his home in our eyes," he told ESPN in an interview.
While incarcerated, John’s father was found to be terminally ill with liver cancer. He was informed by doctors that he only had a year left to live. So in 1998, he was afforded a compassionate release and was able to rejoin his family that summer.
“Then one day you were released, and I could sense you were just as excited as I was when we packed up the car for a family getaway to White Lake, a popular North Carolina resort,” John narrates on The Undefeated.
John Sr. and his wife Frances Pulley had decided to take their children on a family vacation to White Lake, North Carolina.
“We got a cabin there for a few days, and got a chance to spend time with you for the first time with no restrictions. We went to the fair and we ate, had an artist draw a picture of us, and we played in the water,” he continues.
Little did John know that their moment of happiness would also lead to the worst day of his life.
“The next day, Dad, you got sick, and I was beginning to learn that you were released because you were terminally ill with liver cancer. We had no clue that the time we spent playing in the water would lead to water getting into your wound, causing you to hemorrhage. That horrific smell from all that bleeding still sticks with me,” John describes.
A series of surgical rubber bands broke and caused John Sr.’s liver to rupture. He started hemorrhaging in the hotel bathtub and was rushed to the hospital.
“It was at home days later when I overheard a phone conversation that my mother was having with her sister. I heard her say that you had died, and I went into shock. I ran right past her, out the door and down the street with no shirt and no socks. I cried so hard, because hearing you had died is more pain than any 9-year-old should experience,” he continues.
John was immensely affected by his father’s passing. Angry and bitter, he started acting out, earning the nickname Crazy J.
“I would talk back to my teachers, respond to taunts from kids by fighting, and I disappointed my mother each time I got kicked out of school,” he explains.
"Crazy J was a bad kid that did everything. Always did the wild things. Didn't think. Did whatever. Fightin'. Jumpin' off the bleachers. Basically, like a stunt devil who would do anything. I was mean at times. If you try me..." he details to ESPN during an interview.
John was blossoming into an exceptional basketball player; however, his hostile demeanor was threatening to derail his budding career. He would curse inferior teammates and argue with coaches whose decisions he did not agree with.
“I lived up to my nickname: Crazy J. And, honestly, I couldn’t have coached me,” he says. “When I got cut from my next high school — and it wasn’t because of my skills — I was hurt. My mother was devastated.” he continues.
He finally turned his thuggish ways around and started killing Crazy J when his mother sacrificed $200 in order for him to be able to participate in an AAU tournament.
"There was no lights for a day or two," he recalls while shaking his head. "That was it. If my mom was going to do that for me, I was going to make sure she was satisfied for life."
Appreciating his loving mother’s sacrifices, and recognizing the tireless support of the coaches who refused to see his talent go to waste, John made a 180-degree turn and transformed himself into the number one high school basketball player.
“With everyone rallying behind me, I became the best high school player in the nation and had a successful college career that led me to be the top pick of the NBA draft,” he chronicles.
More recently, John has been spending most of his off-court time on philanthropy. Since 2013, his John Wall Family Foundation tirelessly holds a field day and backpack giveaway for children in Washington, D.C.
With the help of the Monumental Sports and Entertainment Foundation, he has also poured out donations of over $1 million to local charities in Raleigh, NC.
Because of all his charitable work, John received the 2015-2016 NBA Cares Community Assist Award.
"I am privileged to be in a position to better my communities in both Washington and Raleigh, and I consider the outreach that I do to be the most rewarding part of being an NBA player," he said during his acceptance speech.
Despite a first-round exit in the 2018 NBA Playoffs, John does not plan to take a break this offseason as he aims to fulfill a promise he made to his father.
“I’m going back to school this summer to get my business degree,” John revealed to The Washington Post. “That’s what I’m focusing on. I promised my dad that.”
He intends to return to the University of Kentucky to complete his business degree.
"When our career is over, when we retire and the basketball stops bouncing, we still have to find something else to do," he explains.
He follows the footsteps of NBA greats such as Michael Jordan who finished his bachelor’s in geography at the University of North Carolina at Chapell Hill and Shaquille O’Neal who earned his bachelor’s at Louisiana State and then obtained his doctorate from Brown University.
Off the Wall: The Unconventional John Wall Basketball Shoes
Hoping to breathe new life into their struggling basketball division, Reebok inked a five-year, $25 million endorsement deal with the yet-to-be-drafted John Wall in 2010, outbidding basketball newcomer Under Armour and sneaker giant Nike.
Though short-lived, his partnership with Reebok produced three signature John Wall sneakers.
- Reebok Zig Slash. The Reebok Zig Slash was John’s first foray into the signature sneaker game. These John Wall basketball shoes feature Reebok’s revolutionary Zigtech that is engineered to optimize energy return. He recorded his very first career triple-double and was also named the MVP of the 2011 NBA All-Star Rookie Challenge while wearing his first signature Reebok John Wall shoes.
- Reebok Wall Season 2: Zig Encore. With the relative success of his first signature John Wall basketball shoes, Reebok followed it up the following year with the Zig Encore. These Reebok basketball shoes offer a more responsive ride with its ZigNano cushioning that is designed specifically for basketball. While wearing the Zig Encore, John was able to continue his stellar play and was able to play in all 66 contests of the shortened 2011-2012 season.
- Reebok Wall Season 3: Zig Escape. This signature Reebok John Wall shoes were his third and final with the brand. The Reebok Wall Season 3: Zig Escape features a slimmer version of the ZigNano technology for heightened responsiveness. This signature John Wall basketball shoes are engineered to keep up with his swift and agile movements on the court.
Reebok was expecting that the predicted number one pick would be able to replace Allen Iverson as the face of the company. However in 2013, after just three signature John Wall shoes, he transferred to parent company Adidas as Reebok implemented a paradigm shift to revive their ailing brand.
“Reebok was kind of a tough situation because they was trying to get back going and be relevant in this basketball business. I think if any other guy would’ve gone No. 1 [in 2010], they would’ve tried to push it, if it was a guard,” John explained in an interview. “And that’s how it was in that situation. And I was the guy who was No. 1 at the time, so it worked out. They know what they want to do. I could’ve signed with Adidas [coming out of Kentucky], and they said, ‘Go with them and see how it goes.’ And it didn’t work out. I just switched over.”
During his move, rumors also surfaced about his signature Reebok J Wall shoes contributing to his foot and knee injuries in the past three seasons.
“It wasn’t planned at all,” he clarified when asked about his new signature John Wall shoes with Adidas, “because they didn’t know I was going to produce, coming off my injury for one. And then they were like, ‘We can’t put no money into a guy that ain’t going to be playing.’ And things like that. They were going through a tough time with Derrick being injured, and they invested a lot of time in him, and the other guys around Adidas are happy to have him back playing. But how the season went along and I played big, had a 47-point game. And going into the next season, I had the Crazy Quick 2. I started wearing, and they were, ‘Well, we think it’s time you start building you marketing-wise.’ ”
Adidas then decided to include John in their “Quick Ain’t Fair” campaign along with fellow guards Damian Lillard of the Portland Trailblazers and Jrue Holiday of the New Orleans Pelicans.
“It’s different. It’s a great opportunity to come in and try to prove myself,” he said. “I just think I’m doing a great job of getting my career going the way I want it to be. And I just don’t have to deal with injuries no more.”
John had one of the best seasons of his NBA career while wearing the Adidas Crazy Quick. During his breakout year, he made his first All-Star appearance and was able to lead the Washington Wizards to the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs.
As he served out the remainder of his five-year contract with Adidas, he was rewarded with two additional signature John Wall basketball shoes.
- Adidas J Wall 1. Not long after his move to Adidas, the first John Wall signature shoes with Adidas was released. These John Wall basketball shoes feature a seamless upper for increased breathability, Fitframe for optimal support, and full-length Adiprene+ for active cushioning.
- Adidas J Wall 2. His second signature John Wall sneakers with Adidas hit the shelves a month after his contract with the brand expired. These John Wall shoes are designed to match his on-court quickness. It features a lightweight upper, Quickframe TPU, and full-length Adiprene+ cushioning.
- Unreleased Adidas J Wall 3. John’s third signature J Wall shoes were already in development before his contract with Adidas expired. After the negotiations fell through, the brand renamed his supposed John Wall basketbal shoes to the very popular Adidas Crazy Explosive 2016.
When his contract was about to expire in September 2015, Adidas offered him an eight-year extension worth $66 million, but he rejected the offer. He was reportedly unhappy with the $7.5 million base he was presented with since what he wanted was “Harden money,” citing the 13-year, $200 million deal Adidas lavished upon Houston Rockets star James Harden to pry him off of Nike a month earlier.
As a sneaker free agent, John mostly wore Nike and Air Jordan basketball shoes during games. He also fired his agent Dan Fagen during this period and replaced him with LeBron James’s friend and agent Rich Paul. Over the past two years, he was in talks with multiple brands for a new endorsement deal, and many were expecting him to sign with Nike given that most of Paul’s clients have shoe deals with the brand.
Unfortunately, signature John Wall Nike basketball shoes were just not meant to be. Much to everyone’s surprise, he returned to the brand that he spurned a couple of years back. In January 2018, he signed a five-year endorsement contract with the Three Stripes.
“To me, I banked on myself to have a season like this. To be honest, I banked on myself. I just feel like somebody is gonna come,” John explains. “If not, I will still be a sneaker free agent. I feel like with the way I’m playing, the type of image I have, the character I have, how I interact with the fans in the community, I think I’m the perfect guy for a signature shoe.”
Despite being paid less and not having his signature John Wall shoes, it would seem that the terms of his new contract are to his liking. As stated by documents procured by Sports Illustrated, John’s base salary for 2017-2018 amounts to $4.825 million (significantly less than the $7.5 million base he was offered two years back). His base salary will see a marginal increase but will return to the original $4.825 million come 2021-2022.
“I think it was great,” John told SB Nation when asked about his new deal. “People hear and say what they might see about a shoe deal, but they never see the real breakdown of a contract and understand incentives and those type of things in there. It wasn’t beneficial to me at the time.”
The documents Sports Illustrated acquired do provide some details of John’s new contract with Adidas. Aside from his base salary, he is also eligible to receive the following bonuses once the conditions are met:
- All-Star MVP — $500,000
- All-Star Reserve — $150,000
- All-Star Starter — $300,000
- First Team All-NBA — $750,000
- Second Team All-NBA — $500,000
- Third Team All-NBA — $250,000
- Defensive Player of the Year — $300,000
- First Team All Defense — $100,000
- Second Team All Defense — $50,000
- First round of the Playoffs — $25,000
- Conference Semifinals — $50,000
- Conference Finals — $150,000
- NBA Finals Runner-up — $250,000
- NBA Champion — $500,000
- NBA Finals MVP — $500,000
- NBA Finals MVP — $500,000
- Leads NBA in scoring —$150,000
- World or Olympic gold medal — $500,000 (must play 15 minutes in gold medal game to earn bonus)
- League Leader in Assists — $250,000
- League Leader in Rebounding — $50,000
- League Leader in Scoring — $50,000
- League Leader in Blocks — $50,000
- League Leader in Steals — $50,000
- Dunk Contest Champion — $1,000,000
- Three-point contest champion — $100,000
- NBA Skills Champion — $50,000
- Dunk Contest Participant — $250,000
- 20/10 Bonus (20 points, 10 assists average) — $150,000
John is also entitled to a $1 million base increase if he wins the regular season MVP award, and $250,000 if he makes the All-NBA first team.
Aside from these amounts, a crucial part of the agreement concerns his health. Unlike other shoe deals, John is not subject to any pro-rations or reductions during the first two years of his contract. He will only be subject to pro-ration if he is unable to participate in a minimum of 60 games beginning in 2019-2020.
In the wake of his new deal, John is hoping for better opportunities.
“A lot of those guys that were there before have been laid off ... It’s a brand new start because it’s a whole new crew over there,” he explains. “They have a lot of the same guys over there player-wise, but it’s just a new start.”
Even though his contract does not include the production of John Wall shoes, he is allowed to collaborate with fellow Adidas clients on footwear collections such as the Pharrell Williams sneakers and Kanye West’s Yeezys. He is poised to become one of the brand’s most prominent on-court ambassadors as he wears non-signature models such as the Crazy Explosive and Crazy BYW.
When asked by SB Nation about the prospect of having another go at his signature John Wall basketball shoes; he said, “You have to play yourself into a signature shoe.”
At this point, fans can only wait and be excited about what John and Adidas have in store in the near future.
The Great Wall: Deconstructing John Wall Basketball shoes
John is one of the few NBA stars who have signature shoes with more than one brand. He was once the face of Reebok basketball before making his move to the Three Stripes. During a live appearance at a Foot Locker store in New York, he explained the difference between working with the two brands.
"I think the biggest difference when I came into the situation with Reebok is that they already had their shoes designed, so I didn’t really have any say so," he said. "At Adidas, I didn’t get a shoe right away. I had to work and show my dedication on and off the court. Putting in work and getting better in those situations and sitting down and getting to know the Adidas people a lot better."
Because of this, he was more involved with the design process of his signature John Wall shoes with Adidas.
“I definitely wanted them to be light. I wanted them to be mid-cut. I wanted them to be able to come in all different type of colors, like you see [Kevin Durant], LeBron [James] got wild colors you can wear off the court. I’d like to wear my shoe on and off the court, so having my own colorways, I can wear them with jeans, and I just wanted to be creative with it and come out with different designs. I think it’s the colors that make the shoes. You got to be able to have different colors to make the shoe hot,” he details.
Robbie Fuller was the man-in-charge of the short-lived yet successful signature Adidas J Wall shoes. He is no stranger to the signature sneaker game. During a one-on-one interview with Sports Illustrated, he details what goes into creating signature basketball sneakers.
Everything begins with the athlete. “You make a list of tendencies, what exactly they like, colors. You don’t have to serve multiple masters,” Fuller says.
The main goal is to create a basketball shoe that is tailor-made for the player. "to make (the sneakers) as signature and different as each of the guys are,” he explains.
Of course, designers collaborate with the signature athlete during the entire process. “Some are very involved, and sneakerheads and basketball was their dream come true and having their own shoe was a dream come true,” he says. “It is so great to have amazing guys always willing to give tons of insights into life and things that are important to them. We take those insights and do justice to bring to life and tell their story well. Their voice is always in the room.”
One of the most crucial parts of the design process is the technology that will be put into the shoe. “Technology is critical,” he explains. “Stories don’t make you run faster. Traction makes you run faster. Support, feeling confident with every move.”
However, the hidden stories and personal touches are what makes each signature model unique and sought after. “There are those things you work in, and hope get noticed,” Fuller says. “Whether it is text that is hidden, even the way you decided on a certain color in a certain area. I think it is awesome there is so much interest in footwear and the stories behind them that people can go and find that third and fourth layer of design.”
More about the designer
Robbie Fuller finished his bachelor's in Industrial Design at the North Carolina State University. During his time with Adidas, he spearheaded the creation of signature John Wall shoes and Damian Lillard basketball shoes. After spending almost 15 years with the Three Stripes, he made his move to Anta in 2016 and is now serving as the brand’s Creative Director of Footwear. He is the man behind Klay Thompson’s signature Anta KT basketball shoes.
Seal of Approval: John Wall Basketball Shoes Personal Touches
Through his signature Adidas John Wall sneakers, he was finally able to tell his stories and pay tribute to the people who supported him throughout the years.
- JW logo. The stylized initials are a nod to his father John Wall Sr. Five graphic designers created 1,000 versions of the logo before John settled with the current design.
- Mama’s Boy. John’s tribute to his loving mother Frances Pulley who continues to inspire him.
- Great Wall. One of John’s monikers that pushes him to aspire for greatness.
- Five Deep. John’s group of childhood friends.
- Raleigh 919. John’s hometown and area code.
When is John Wall’s birthday?
John Wall was born on September 6, 1990.
Why does John Wall wear the number two?
When he was still playing for the Univeristy of Kentucky, his jersey number was 11. However, the Washington Wizards retired that number for Elvin Hayes. He opted for the number two instead since 1+1=2.
Is John Wall a lefty?
John is right-handed. He shoots the basketball with his right hand but almost always dunks with his left.
Is John Wall a cat or dog lover?
He is a certified dog lover. He has two French bulldogs and three pitbulls.
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