Since entering the NBA nearly five years ago, disrespect — perceived and real — has been a steady source of motivation for John Wall. For reasons unknown to the Washington Wizards point guard, he was not mentioned among the best at his position in the sport. The slights, whether because of injuries or his team's lack of success, have long irritated him.
The recognition, however, has arrived this season. Coming off his first postseason appearance, Wall has his own signature shoe, regularly provides fodder for nightly highlight shows and helms a contender with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. And Thursday night, Wall's ascension was acknowledged by NBA fans, who voted him a starter for the Feb. 15 All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden in New York for the first time in his career.
"It's going in the right steps," the 24-year-old Wall said in a telephone interview after the results were announced. "There's still a lot more love and respect I can get. But like me and Coach [Randy Wittman] talked about last year, you only get to those situations, those places when you're winning. So it's a big honor for me and my teammates and coaches. I appreciate the fans a whole lot for voting me in as a starter."
Wall led all East back-court players with 886,368 votes, more than 81,000 ahead of Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, who will start alongside Wall. Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James was the conference's leading vote-getter and will start in the front court with Chicago Bulls center Pau Gasol and New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (Towson Catholic).
It will be Wall's second straight All-Star Game appearance. He was a coach's selection last season; his fan coronation is uncharted territory for the Wizards. The No. 1 selection in the 2010 draft, Wall is the first player drafted by the franchise voted as a starter since Earl Monroe received the nod in 1971 when the team was still in Baltimore.
Wall is the 11th player in Wizards history to earn an all-star start. The previous Wizards player voted in as a starter was Gilbert Arenas in 2007. Before Arenas, Michael Jordan concluded his career with starts in the 2002 and 2003 games.
"It's going to be same, nervous, man, because now it's different," Wall said of starting instead of coming off the bench. "Last year, I came off the bench, so it was like, 'OK, I'm in off the bench, the game is already going and I just got to come in and do a little bit.' But you're anxious. Your first shot, you hope you don't air ball. All the guys were telling me, 'Make your first shot a layup. Make it easy.' Now it's different because I'm starting the game and I'll be the main guy running the show from the beginning. So it's going to be a lot of nerves."
For Wall, the honor is the product of a career year. Regularly criticized for rarely shifting out of top gear, the speedy Wall has improved his ability to change pace and maneuver around the basketball court. The fluidity, coupled with elite passing skills and a better supporting cast, has him leading the NBA in assists (10.0 per game), second in points created by assist (23.4), and second in secondary assists (2.0).
He also tops the Wizards in scoring (17.0 points), boasts an improved jumper that has resulted in what would be a career-best 45.7 shooting percentage and leads NBA guards with 23 double doubles.
And the 6-foot-4 Wall is cresting as a defender. Always possessing the necessary tools — quickness, size, wingspan — Wall has applied more consistent effort on the defensive end. He is tied for the league lead in steals (2.1), and his defensive real plus-minus of 2.22 is tops among NBA point guards.
His individual improvements have been pivotal for Washington. The Wizards have used their stout defense, which ranks third in points allowed per game (97.1), to start the season 29-14.
It all begins with Wall, the floor general finally garnering the respect he believes he deserves.
--Jorge Castillo, The Washington Post
More baseball: The Atlanta Braves signed former Orioles infielder-outfielder Kelly Johnson to a minor league contract that includes an invitation to major league spring training, where he'll compete for a utility job, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Johnson, 32, hit .215 with a .296 on-base percentage last season with the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Orioles. ... The Washington Nationals signed right-handed reliever Evan Meek to a minor league deal with an invite to big league camp, MLB.com. Meek pitched with the Orioles last season. ... The Colorado Rockies named former Orioles reliever Doug Jones the pitching coach for short-season Single-A Boise.
Ravens: The team signed wide receiver Aldrick Robinson, a 2011 sixth-round draft pick of the Washington Redskins out of Southern Methodist, to a reserve-future deal. He was signed to the Ravens' practice squad late in 2014.
NFL: The Washington Redskins parted ways with defensive line coach Jacob Burney, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed. Burney had been with Washington since 2010.
—Alexa Steele, The Washington Post
Sailing: Skipper Hap Fauth's Bella Mente has a slight lead over Numbers in the IRC 1 class entering today's final races at the five-day Quantum Key West regatta in Florida. Gunter Buerman George Sakellaris During Wednesday's first race, Bella Mente grounded on a shipwreck. Afterward, tactician Terry Hutchinson of Annapolis persuaded officials that Bella Mente shouldn't be penalized because the wreck was not on their chart. But early Thursday, two other crews had the decision reversed, proving the wreck was charted and pointed out an event official had cited the obstacle at a prerace meeting. Bella Mente relinquished a sizable lead.
Major Arena Soccer League: Blast forward Adriano Dos Santos was named to the Team of the Week.
Major League Soccer: D.C. United extended forward Fabian Espindola's option and gave him designated player status. The Argentinian had 11 goals and nine assists last season. Forward Michael Seaton will miss six to eight weeks with a left knee injury.
National Women's Soccer League: The Washington Spirit signed Argentine forward Estefania Banini, formerly with Colo Colo of the Chilean Women's Football Championship.