John Wall strips down
This is an extended interview from the 2013 ESPN The Magazine Body Issue. Subscribe to The Mag today!
What do you like about your body?
JW: I think my best feature are my abs. They're cut up. Last year, when I was injured, I got overweight and I didn't like myself because I had a big belly, and that's not what I want to be. I like to stay in shape, and I like to be fit even when I'm not playing. So I've been doing a lot of sit-ups and conditioning to make sure my abs are there. Crunches are my go-to. I do 100 crunches in the morning and at night to get myself going and get my body moving.
If you could change something about your body, what would it be?
JW: I'd want bigger arms. I'm strong, but my arms are skinny; they're never going to get big and bulky like a football player. I've gained a lot of weight -- I went into college 165, left at 185, and now I'm 210 -- but my arms haven't kept up. But I'm cool with them. As long as I'm getting stronger and preventing injury and able to take hits and finish through contact, they don't need to be big.
What would you define as your edge mentally?
JW: I'm always motivated. Anytime I step on the court, I know I've got to bring my A-game. If I go out and play hard but have a bad shooting night or an off night, I'm cool with that. But if I didn't play hard, I'll feel like I was outplayed. When I was 16, I was cut from the basketball team. I was on my way to school and got a call from my friend, the best player in the school (we were going to be a great backcourt duo), and he was like, "You didn't make the team." I was like, Are you serious? I thought he was playing. But when I got there, I found out he was serious. To this day, I don't know why I got cut, but it was one of the best things to happen to me. That gave me motivation and has driven me to be who I am today. I had to transfer to a private school, and I had a great experience. I had a new coach who believed in me and wanted me there, and we went to the state championship.
What's the most unusual thing you do to train?
JW: I run the Runyon Canyon in LA, and that's a great workout. You hike up a hill, and in some places it's like a stairwell; there are wood planks in the ground and you have to lift your legs and pull yourself up. It's tough, especially the first couple times. I'm fast and I push myself, but it still takes about 30 minutes.
What's the one workout you couldn't live without?
JW: Working on my jump shot. I love that because my jump shot has improved; I've been doing the right mechanics, things like holding my follow-through. As you get more reps in and get more confident, the sky's the limit. I do an hour workout every day, and if I don't have a great day shooting, or even if I did, I go back and do another 30 to 40 minutes.
How has your diet changed over the years?
JW: It's changed a lot since my first year in the NBA. I used to eat fast food and burgers and stuff like that. I didn't put on weight during the season, but after the season was over, I could feel it coming. Now I eat salads, fruit, salmon, healthy things. I don't eat fast food anymore. And I don't eat ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, pickles. I don't like sausage. I'm a different breed.
Have you ever felt self-conscious about your body?
JW: I was always small and skinny, like a stick figure, so I wondered when I was going to grow. I was like 5'7" in 10th grade. And then one summer, I just started to grow. But nobody ever pushed me around. I never let that happen. I think basketball harnessed and built my toughness and competitiveness. I grew up in a tough neighborhood, and you were either going to cry and moan about it or get tough. I never complained, I just kept fighting, and I let it be known the day I moved to my neighborhood that I wasn't going to be pushed around. I was 7 or 8 playing with the 13- and 14-year-olds, and I went out and played and left my statement there. Everyone knew I was good enough and I wasn't going to back down.
What is your biggest physical strength?
JW: My speed. How fast I can run, how quickly I can change directions. Also my jumping. I can jump pretty high. I do a lot of things most guards can't.
What's the toughest thing you've been through mentally?
JW: Losing a father at the age of 8 is tough. You don't understand it or know the meaning of it. I had to grow up and become a man faster than I wanted. But motivation came out of it. I got motivation from seeing my mom work three or four jobs and knowing my dad was watching over me and didn't want me to give up on my dreams and goals. I grew up with that edge and competitive drive. I wanted to play and let people know that if you play me, you're not playing just any other player.
What's the worst thing your body has been through?
JW: Last year, I almost broke my kneecap. I have no idea what happened. I was working out, lifting weights, doing my on-court stuff, and all of a sudden my knee started hurting. I got it checked, and the doctor told me my kneecap was breaking in half and if I kept playing, I would miss the whole year. I was devastated. The first day of training camp, I found out I had to be out eight weeks, which turned into 16 to 20. It was tough, but I think it made me a better leader and better person. I traveled with the team, and I wasn't keeping to myself. I wanted to be around the team and be a leader, and I think I got stronger and came back a better player.
What about your body would surprise us?
JW: I just got my first tattoos about a month ago. I got my back and my whole stomach and a piece on my chest. It took a long time. The one on my chest says Mama's Boy, with a rose and my mom's name. That's the one she likes most. The one on my back says The Great Wall. That was my nickname when I was the No. 1 player in the country. This is the first opportunity for everyone to see them.