Washington Wizards point guard John Wall wrote an emotionally powerful open letter to his late father, John Wall, Sr., for ESPN The Magazine’s State of the Black Athlete issue, which will be released February 5. John Sr. spent most of Wall’s childhood in prison before dying of liver cancer when Wall was only 9 years old. In the letter, Wall talks about his memories with his father and how much he wishes he could have seen him play basketball.
“Many of my wishes have mostly come true, with a successful career that has allowed me to take care of my family,” Wall wrote. “But there’s one wish of mine that will never be granted. That wish would be bringing you back to life so that you could see me play in the NBA. You never got the chance to see me play basketball at any level.”
Wall explains that his father was sent to prison for armed robbery when he was just 2 years old and so he grew up with his father behind bars. He recalls making “the two-hour drive every weekend” with his mom to visit his father in prison. And he shares how much joy he felt spending even a little bit of time with his father, writing, “I couldn’t wait for those guards to take those shackles off of you so I could jump into your arms and feel your tight embrace.”
While Wall wishes he could have gotten more time with his dad, he expressed gratitude for all the things his father taught him in their short time together. He says that instead of focusing on the past, his father encouraged him to look to the future and build the life his father could never, including an education.
“Most importantly, you instilled in me the importance of being a real man,” Wall recalled. “You told me to put myself in a position to one day take care of my mother, something you were unable to do while being locked away.”
Wall was 9 when his father was released from prison but, unfortunately, he was only released because it was discovered that he had terminal liver cancer. Still, Wall remembers going to the cabin in White Lake, North Carolina as a family shortly after his father was released, calling the experience “the best day of my young life.”
Sadly, Wall’s father died only a few weeks later and after his older brother was locked up a year later, Wall began acting out in school and at home. Thankfully, Wall was able to remember what his dad had taught him and eventually focused himself and became the best high school basketball player in the nation.
In the end of the letter, Wall thanks his father for giving him the tools to build a successful life for him and his family, even if their relationship was unconventional.
“We never had the opportunity to really interact the way a father and son should,” Wall wrote. “But we made the best of the time we spent in prison, forming a bond that is truly unforgettable.”