I’m still here.
That’s a hard thing to tell the world. But if you can say one thing about me, it’s that I’ve always been real, and that’s not going to change today. I can’t sugarcoat it. The truth is … two years ago, I was in a really dark place and I just couldn’t see a way out. And I know that probably sounds crazy to some people. I already know the kind of comments I’m gonna get.
“Bro, how the hell can you have all that money and be depressed? You’re John Wall.”
Listen, I know exactly who I am. I’m a dog. I been knocked down and got up off the canvas 100 times. From a skinny little kid growing up in Section 8 in Raleigh to the No. 1 pick — all the ups and downs and the sh*t I’ve seen? I know exactly who I am, and what I represent, and how many people need to hear this. So I’m not afraid to tell you that I’ve been in a place that was so dark that suicide felt like the only option.
I mean, we’re not supposed to even say the word right?? It’s almost like a taboo, especially in the community I come from. Well, I’ll speak on it.
For me, it all happened really fast. In the span of three years, I went from being on top of the world to losing damn near everything I ever cared about. In 2017, I’m jumping up on the announcer’s table in D.C. after forcing Game 7 against Boston, and I’m the king of the city. I’m getting a max extension, thinking I’m a Wizard for life. A year later, I tore my Achilles and lost the only sanctuary I’ve ever known — the game of basketball. I ended up with such a bad infection from the surgeries that I nearly had to have my foot amputated. A year later, I lost my best friend in the whole world, my mom, to breast cancer.
And you have to understand, when I say I lost my best friend, I’m not exaggerating. I had two nicknames growing up. “Crazy J,” because I was crazy as hell. Ha. I used to literally do anything the homies dared me to do. They had me jumping off roofs into bushes like it’s Jackass. And then my other nickname was “Momma’s Boy,” and you already know why. My dad had been in jail since I was one, and he died of liver cancer when I was 9 years old. They let him out just to say goodbye. I can still see him in that dope 84 Randy Moss Vikings jersey, the last day I ever got with him. To this day, I don’t even like going to the beach, because that was our first and last trip as a family. My older brother was locked up, too. So my mom was my whole world. She would work three jobs just to keep our lights on. (And some months, those lights were definitely cutting off, if we needed that money for AAU tournaments.)
I wasn’t a Foot Locker kid. Everything we got was from the flea market. I was the kid who showed up to basketball practice in some And1s from the clearance rack at Shoe Carnival. I was the kid with the anger issues. The kid who was always acting up. But damn if my mom didn’t love me, man. She used to drive me 45 minutes to my elementary school and wait out in the parking lot because she knew there was a 50% chance I was gonna get kicked out for acting up to the teachers. I used to come walking out to the car with my hands in the air like they’d called a bad foul.
I’d be saying, “I don’t know what I did…. Yo, these teachers acting crazy.” Hahaha. She would just sit there shaking her head like, “See? This is why I don’t drive home.”
Everything I ever did was for my mom. I had one mission, and that was for her to be good, for life. I accomplished everything we ever dreamed about. I just had no idea how short our time was gonna be. One of the things I’ll never forget was a few years before she got sick, I got invited to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and it was President Obama’s last one, so of course I was bringing my mom as my date. Man, when I say she was turnt up to be there that night, you don’t even know. She had her little drink in her hand, and she got to meet every celebrity she ever dreamed of. Somebody would be like, “Oh! John Wall! We gotta get a picture!” And my mom would be like, “Hello??? I’m John Wall’s mom! You’re getting a picture with me!”
I’m pulling her to the side like, “Mom! You can’t be Deeboing ’em like that! We at the White House!!” (I mean, I know it wasn’t the White House but might as well been.)
When she saw Tony Romo, it was over. She’s the biggest Cowboys fan in the world. “Tony!! Tony!!! Oh my God, we need a picture, just me and you, Tony!!”
That night, we switched roles. I was just the photographer. She was the star. And I know everybody thinks they got the best mom, but that night I was looking at her shining, and I thought, Damn, I really got the best mom anyone could ask for.
From Section 8 in Raleigh, working three jobs to survive, to stealing the show at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
We even got to take a picture with Barack and Michelle — and you know what she said to them? “Y’all are so dope. Thank you for having us. Y’all are just so dope.”
That’s my mom. How can you not love that? She was the most genuine person in the world. She had a millionaire son and was still shopping at T.J. Maxx, out of habit. She was still working the door at AAU tournaments, out of habit. She was still waking up at four o’clock in the morning, out of habit. She was never gonna change. She was a force of nature.
And then she got sick.
I remember one of the things that hurt me so bad was when she started her chemo treatments, just seeing her struggling to get up out of the recliner afterwards. You know how they got the patients sitting in those recliners for hours while they do their treatment? That was when my anger issues started coming out, because in my mind, they should have you in a nice hospital bed. I was getting frustrated with the nurses, because I just couldn’t stand to see my mom like that.
She was fighting like hell, and for a while, she was doing really good. She even came to my 29th birthday party. But looking back, that was like our final goodbye. A few weeks after, she had a stroke, and her whole left side was paralyzed. I remember walking into the room and seeing her face drooping, and she was trying to talk, and she just didn’t sound like my mom. I ran straight out the room crying, like a little kid. I literally couldn’t handle seeing my mom like that. It took all my strength to go back in there and be feeding her applesauce. This is the strongest woman ever, and I’m feeding her like a baby? That f***ed me up so bad.
One day we were all alone, and she just told me straight out, “I had a good life. I enjoyed it. But I’m tired of fighting. I just want to be at peace.”
A few weeks later, we were playing in Charlotte. I was still rehabbing, trying to get back on the court. We had just landed when I got the call.
“Bro … your mom died. But the doctors were able to bring her back, and she’s on a ventilator. You need to get here now.”
We got to the team hotel, and I just snapped. I smashed everything in that Ritz Carlton — the TV, the mirror, everything. That’s actually when I got really close with Brad. I think he knew there was nothing even to say, so he came down to my room and just sat with me. He was there for me during the hardest moment of my life.
That night, my homeboy drove me all the way from Charlotte to the hospital in Raleigh and I remember sitting in the back seat the whole ride listening to “I Wish,” just playing it over and over and praying that my mom and I could have one more conversation. When I got to the hospital and saw her on the ventilator, her chest going up and down, I fainted.
When I woke up and got back on my feet, our whole family crowded around her bed. She was in a coma. Her eyes were closed the whole time. Then it got real late, and people started going home. It was just me and my sisters sitting there by her bedside.
All of a sudden, she opened her eyes.
She couldn’t talk, but she had tears in her eyes. She knew we were there. And we just told her, “Thank you for being our mom. Thank you for being our mom.”
As soon as someone opened the door, she closed her eyes. She never opened them again. For three nights, I was on a little pullout bed next to her, holding her hand while we slept.
Finally, on the fourth day, my best friend passed over to the other side.
The thing that hurt me the most was just randomly picking up my phone to call her, and realizing that there was nobody on the other end. My whole life, I used to call her six or seven times a day, every day. So when she died, I kept calling her number six or seven times a day just to hear the voicemail. I’d be talking to her, even though she was gone.
That was when I started going to a really dark place. The thoughts would be playing in my head like….
“My best friend is gone. I can’t play the game I love. Everybody just got their hand out. Nobody is checking on me for me. It’s always coming with something attached. Who’s there to hold me down now? What’s the point of being here?”
And listen, I know how fortunate I am. I know what it’s like to be hungry. All I can tell you is that when I was in my darkest moments, the money and the fame were the furthest things from my mind. Money and fame don’t mean sh*t if you don’t have peace in your life.
In the midst of it all, the trade rumors started. The franchise I had sacrificed my blood, sweat and tears to represent for 10 years decided they wanted to move on. I was devastated, I’m not gonna lie. That was when I started debating — literally debating — whether I wanted to go on, almost every night.
From the outside, you never would’ve thought anything was wrong. I wasn’t telling my circle anything, even my right-hand guy. I was partying a lot, trying to mask all the pain. I always had my people around me, and when we were chilling at the house, I could just forget. But when everybody goes home at the end of the night, and your head hits that pillow? There’s no forgetting. There’s no more mask.
One night, after all my homies had left and it was just me sitting there all alone with my thoughts running wild, I got about as close as you can get to making an unfortunate decision and leaving this earth. Only by the grace of God, and the love of my sons, am I still here to tell my story.
The one thing I always held on to, in the darkest times, was the thought of my boys — just the little things, like wanting to be around for their first day of school, or their first vacation. Or wanting them to see their dad play in an NBA game for real, and not just on some highlights from back in the day. Those thoughts held me down during a lot of hard nights. But if I’m being honest, even the thought of being a father wasn’t enough for me to get help. That’s how depression lies to you. That devil on your shoulder is whispering to you, “Well, maybe they’d be better off without you here.”
I was praying to God just to give me the strength to wake up the next morning. Then, one night, my mom came to me in a dream. It was like she was standing right next to me. She looked me in the eyes and said, “You have to keep going for your children. There’s more for you to do on this earth.”
It felt like a sign from God. It took a while, but I eventually reached out to somebody in my circle and said the most important words you can say….
“Yo! I need some f***ing help!”
Those six words changed my life.
That was when I started talking to a therapist — and it slowly turned things around. Like I said, I don’t know how other people feel. I don’t want to preach to anybody. But for me, I felt like I’d been in Survival Mode my whole life. Coming from where I came from, and seeing the things I’d seen, I had to grow up so fast. I had to be the man of the house at nine years old. So my whole mentality, no matter the situation, was always, “I don’t need anybody’s help. I’ll figure it out. I’ve gritted through everything else, so why not this?”
Being a product of your environment is not a bad thing. But I think it’s a blessing and a curse. Being a dog, being unbreakable, always having that chip on your shoulder — hey, I get it. I’ve been that guy. But the day is going to come when you can’t do it on your own. And you gotta be strong enough on that day to ask for help.
Listen, y’all know me. Y’all know how I carry myself, and what I stand for. If I can tuck my pride and admit that I’m not good, then can’t nobody tell you nothing. I still talk to my therapist to this day, and I’m still unpacking a lot of the crazy sh*t that I’ve been through. I’m never going to stop doing it, because I really don’t know when the darkness could come back. Right now, though? I’m feeling better than I’ve felt in years. I feel like I’m breathing fresh air again. I feel a sense of peace. I get to wake up in the morning and do what I love to do — play basketball for a living, be a good father to my sons, and carry on the legacy and the light of Frances Ann Pulley.
When I look at my youngest son, and the way he be sticking his bottom lip out and smirking, I’m like: Damn. That’s just like my mom. A little piece of her is still here.
When my older son comes running into the room to jump up on me like, “Raaaahhhhh!!!!! My daddy JOHNWALLLLLLL!!!!!!!”
That’s my purpose now.
And I know y’all heard me say it not too long ago, when I was playing pickup with PG and them…. “I’m BACK.”
And it’s true. I am back. But it’s also something way, way deeper. It’s bigger than basketball, what I’m talking about. It’s LIFE, right?? I’ve been through some of the darkest times you can imagine … and yo….
I’m still here.