It started as many urban legends start, with a grain of truth. With the Wizards trailing the Los Angeles Lakers in the waning moments of Monday night's game, John Wall came to the line for two critical free throws as Washington trailed 98-97. Up to that point, Wall had 29 points and 10 assists on the evening, and had scored the Wizards last 10 points. Which is to say, John Wall was playing well. Really well, in a way that even the most casual fan can appreciate.
As Wall dribbled in preparation to shoot his foul shots, a fair number of boos could be heard. How many boos, well, it depends on who you ask. Here are tweets that got people's attention on Wednesday:
I just saw John Wall's mom crying after the game. I can't believe how fans boo him here. #wizards— Erin Hawksworth (@ABC7Erin) December 3, 2015
This isn't the first time the Wizards have been boo'd at home. It's been an issue this season. https://t.co/aPqwug6pOE— Erin Hawksworth (@ABC7Erin) December 3, 2015
The clear implication from this is that the mean Wizards fans booing John Wall made his mom cry. While we realize that television stations that cover the Wizards for one or two marquee games a year are maybe not a great source of inside information on Washington basketball, these tweets on the possibility of the Wizards fanbase booing their star player were picked up in the blogosphere.
Deadspin ran with the headline "Kobe Bryant Contributes to Rare Lakers Victory As Fans Boo John Wall." Kevin Draper entertained the possibility that Wizards fans were booing Wall for the team's struggles:
"I’m not usually one to lecture about fan decorum, but booing John Wall? Come the fuck on. Sure, he and the Wizards are underperforming this season, but we are barely into the second month! Last night the Wizards walloped the Cavaliers—you know, the defending Eastern Conference champions—on the road, as Wall scored 35.If it was Wizards fan booing John Wall, it confirmed every stereotype about Washington fans only giving a shit or knowing anything about the NFL."
Yahoo Sports ran with a similar headline, "The 'not even fun' Wizards hit a low point, as John Wall hears the boos."
While both pieces don't outright say it, the implication is clear: Wizards fans are taking their team's poor start on John Wall. Nothing could be further from the truth.
First, consider the context. Wall was at the line to give the Wizards the lead and had just scored the team's last 10 points. He had just had one of the best games of his career the night before in scoring 35 points and adding 10 assists to beat Lebron and the hated Cleveland Cavaliers. Why would Wizards fans pick this, of all moments, to boo their star player? It defies logic, and it defies what actually happened.
Let's go to the video. Before the first shots, you hear a mix of boos and cheers as Wall calmly hits the first free throw, and then cheers as he hits it. Well, perhaps Wizards fans were frustrated and hitting the free throw settled them down? I guess not, as he prepares for the second shot we hear another mix of boos and cheers, then Wall hits the second shot (and the crowd cheers).
Given the dynamic of large numbers of Lakers fans at the game, particularly given it was Kobe's last game in DC, there were some Lakers fans booing and some Wizards fans cheering Wall. Washington, like every city in the US, has a decent contingent of Kobe fans and having their hero do so well in the last game they would see him in emboldened them.
What there was not was Wizards fans booing John Wall for the teams struggles. In fact, I'd argue that the Lakers fans there weren't really booing John Wall as a player or person. They were booing any Wizards player going to the line with the game in doubt with that amount of time left. Pope Francis could have been going to the line with a puppy he just saved and the reaction would have been roughly the same.
Later in Draper's piece for Deadspin, he went on to say "And if the arena was so overrun by Lakers fans (and it sure sounds like it was) that they were booing Wall, well, that’s a damning indictment of Wizards fans just the same."
Perhaps. There were a lot of Kobe/Lakers fans at the game last night, and they certainly got boisterous as their hero hit some big shots in the 4th quarter. I won't argue that the Wizards fanbase isn't particularly large in this area, though I wouldn't be surprised if you see similar displays for Kobe if he plays well in other cities. But the small and loyal Wizards fanbase that exists mostly knows they are happy to see #2 play for their team.