Of all the things us fans expect from the athletes we watch is that they play hard. It's the most basic thing in the world, and yet there are many athletes who don't come through. So when we come across an athlete like John Wall that plays at warped speed and will twist his body in so many different ways just to help his team win, we cherish him.
Well, that is unless you are Tracee Hamilton of the Washington Post. To Hamilton, Wall doing all these things is a sign of him displaying "recklessness," and he needs to tone it down before his body breaks down. Noting that Wall has missed six of his first 20 games already, Hamilton cautions that Wall needs to chill out if he wants his body to hold up in the long term.
It's a ridiculous premise, because you can't simply ask the most electrifying open-floor prospect to come into the NBA since LeBron James to tone it down a bit. It's also a ridiculous premise because Hamilton assumes that a) Wall cares about winning Rookie of the Year, something history says he won't do if he sits out a lot, b) Wall's turnovers are caused by his style of play rather than his adjustment to the pick-and-roll heavy NBA, c) Wall "recklessness" is showing up on "highlight-reel moves," as if he's not trying to help his team win. But it's doubly ridiculous because we've pointlessly been down this road before with another high-profile D.C. athlete.
Mike Holden pointed this out on Twitter, and it's a good point: doesn't think sound exactly like criticisms levied at Alex Ovechkin? The argument then was that Ovie hit too hard, played too recklessly and was a danger to himself and to his opponents. He had to change the very style that made him great, all so reporters could be right about him. The argument made no sense with Ovechkin, and makes no sense with Wall. You tell great athletes to be themselves. You don't try to change them.
Seriously, just read the similarities between Hamilton's column on Wall and Thomas Boswell's column on Ovechkin last year.
Rookie John Wall plays as hard as anyone I've seen in a Wizards uniform in a long time - when he plays. And therein lies the rub.
Alex Ovechkin should slow down and live. If he can.
Hamilton on Wall's body potentially breaking down:
Wall missed six of the Wizards' first 20 games because of injuries to his foot and knee. He also has had a lot of close calls, such as the one at Toronto last week when he nearly suffered whiplash banging into a defender. He has run into the stanchions holding up various backboards around the league so often the padding should come with a chalk outline of his body. Photographers leaguewide should be issued helmets.
Boswell on Ovechkin's body potentially breaking down.
Ovechkin skated briefly at the Capitals' practice rink after a knee-to-knee hit Monday night that, in addition to getting him an ejection and game-misconduct penalty, looked like it could have been a serious injury. On slow-motion replays, his knee clearly buckled sideways. But it held. This time.
So, Ovechkin's knee will get better, just like the shoulder injury that sidelined him six games earlier this season. Are these just warning shots from Mother Nature? What's clear is, at 24, Ovie is no longer indestructible, even if he thinks he is.
Hamilton on Wall's longjevity:
Wall's style of play is often compared to that of Allen Iverson, who threw himself around the court for 14 seasons while largely avoiding major injury. But few players can play with Iverson's reckless abandon, and Wall may not be one of them.
Boswell on Ovechkin's longjevity:
No great athlete in any sport plays more wildly, with less regard for injury, to himself or his foe, than Alex Ovechkin right now.
If he could turn his aggression down just a notch, he would be just as great but have a longer career that is even more admirable.
Hamilton foreshadowing the future of Wall:
I'm sure John Wall wants it all: rookie of the year, all-star berths, playoff berths, championship rings. He is at that magical time of life where nearly every good thing still lies in front of him, just waiting for him to catch up. That will be tougher to do on crutches.
Boswell foreshadowing the future of Ovechkin:
If Ovechkin, all 700 horsepower, can't find a way to downshift, we'll just have to cross our fingers. Every night, every shift, he's going on all 12 cylinders, running in the red. That's why we love to watch him. From now on, it's also why we'll hold our breath.
Boswell's column came out on December 2, 2009. Since then, Ovechkin has played in 82 of a possible 84 Capitals games, doing the same things Ovie always does. So much for holding your breath.