NBA Lockout Off-Topic Theater: John Wall And Jimmy's Game

Welcome to an NBA Lockout Series that will draw cinematic and/or literary parallels to present Wizards personnel.  The lockout is long, and subjects to write on have become increasingly spare.  Prepare for basketball-flavored gruel, and that is as close to an apology as you're getting. 

Without further ado, the second edition of Off-Topic Theater will take a look at the story the story of John Wall and his quest to bring D.C. basketball to the promised land, as told by Orson Scott Card.

There's the obligatory Harry Potter reference:

David Stern as Rubeus Hagrid: "You're a Wizard, Jimmy."

John Wall as Harry Potter: "What?  No, I'm going to the Nets. I'm going to play with Brook Lopez and Lebron James. Brooklyn ftw!"

Hagrid: "Nooooooope."

Same for the Lord of the Rings:

Ted Leonsis as Elrond Halfelven: And yet to have come so far, still bearing the franchise, the player has shown extraordinary resilience to the curse of les boulez.

Ernie Grunfeld as Gandalf the Grey: Hire a new medical staff, we can ask no more of Jimmy.

But the story I think of when look for a John Wall parallel is Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game.  The story's protagonist, Andrew Wiggin (whose sister could not pronounce his name as a child, calling him Ender), is a highly gifted child who has maturity beyond his years, but is sent to a military academy called Battle School.  An alien hive mind species has attacked humanity twice, nearly winning through to Earth itself both times, with the second war being lost if not for a reserve commander who turned out to be an intuitive military genius.  Children the world over are tested for high aptiude, then sent to train in a secret location.  Overpopulation is a severe problem on Earth, and having more than two children has become a social stigma, with major tax penalties for each child.  As the third child in his family, Ender endures a difficult life both at school and is targeted by his old brother for torment.  Everyone in Ender's family is a genius, but Ender is the one the military was hoping for; combining his brother's killer instinct with his sister's compassion.  His life has become defined by crushing expectations.

That's the view from 40,000 feet.  Stacking up with our boy in red, white, and blue is all too easy.  While John didn't burst onto the national scene until the the Reebok Breakout Camp 2007, there is no denying he endured plenty of adversity in his young life.  Out of personal respect for him, I won't dissect that for entertainment purposes here.

If we look at the franchise as humanity, it isn't much of a stretch to see front-office bedlam as warfare.  Take your pick: The Chris Webber trade, the Michael Jordan era or your own personal 'favorite' is the first war, while the second could hardly be anything but Gungate.  This is sure to ruffle a few feathers, but Ernie Grunfeld's acumen surely saved the day and the franchise from years of cap hell and rebuilding (though winning the draft lottery helped a little, heh), although the intuitive military genius character will take on a different face later on.

The military's program to scout and bring children of the highest aptitude into the fold is a simple transformation away from being the extensive basketball development engine in the US aimed at bringing the best young talents into the NBA.  As those children are brought into the school, they are truly challenged as they competed against classmates who possessed the same formidable gifts.  Ender excelled, as John has, often resulting in their being held to a different standard.

The primary tool of the Battle School is the game.  A room with artificial obstacles, the game is 40 on 40 (groups called armies) zero-gravity laser tag, wearing suits which become immobile by sections as they are hit by enemy fire.  Learning to work as a unit while attempting to excel enough to garner enough attention for advancement, this bears an easy parallel to the college game.

Ender enjoys plenty of success despite a host of troubles which have largely been either manufactured or encouraged by the military to test and isolate him.  While there is no active process like this, learning to deal with isolation is necessary for any player making the jump to the pros, and is indeed something that began for John even at UK, dodging fans by wearing his hood up in order to make class on time.

There is a tool students refer to as the mind game, a tool which evolves around the choices a player makes.  Ender reaches a point in the game called the Giant's Drink, a no-win scenario in which the player's ultimate choice is simply not to play.  Ender breaks the rules and defeats the game, which begins to design itself around him.

The mind game is much like how players must deal with the media.  Expectations and reputation are on the line every time a player speaks, or hell, does anything that might draw attention.  The Giant's Drink is the Colin Cowherd farce, which John won in the traditional way by simply walking away.  In my fantasy land, John refuses to speak to any member of a corporation employing CC, but life is not a storybook, and it's hard to imagine that ending well.  Wilbon might even take time out of his busy fashion agenda to flame Jimmy on Twitter.

Following an especially difficult test where no victory seems achievable, Ender does the impossible and wins in a suicidal gambit.  He is transferred to Command School, which is The Big Show, to be trained under an irascible old man who turns out to be the intuitive military genius who saved humanity in the last war.  After a brutal training program, he is reunited with all the best students he fought with or against during his time at the Battle School.

The parallel isn't at its strongest here.  John is drafted into the big show, and this iteration of the irascible old man is Flip Saunders, preparing him on-the-job for the most demanding mental position in a league of athletic super-specimens in game ever-increasing in complexity.  Rather than reuniting with all his old classmates, John is on his own again, and in an uncertain situation where the franchise isn't entirely his to own.

At the hands of the teacher, our protagonist and his friends are forged into a formidable and cohesive team.  As he leads them, he becomes less their friend and more their commander.  We expect to see John become the same kind of floor general and we expect Flip to help him get there.  We've seen the culture of friends enough over the last decade, and while we want our guys to like, respect, and bond with one another, we want John to be the wellspring of on-the-court accountability.

I won't spoil the rest of the story, especially since we have yet to see how the rest of this generation of Wizards' turns out.  Suffice it to say, it doesn't turn out all roses, and that at least is something we're used to.

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