“I see you going for the pull-up the whole time! I’m a vet!” Does it really matter that John Wall is only 20 years old? He’s not exactly a veteran. But we’ll call him one because he looked the part at Reebok Headquarters on Tuesday, dominating in pick-up games and clearly standing alone as the face of the brand. While he is set to make the jump to 21 in another week, Wall is still a lot like the high school kids he was hooping with: young, excited and taking every challenge head on.
The Reebok Basketball Breakout Challenge is back again, albeit with a new name (it was formally Reebok U.). But the same mentality is there. This summer, the Philadelphia event provided opportunities for all of those under-the-radar players who might not have exposure to play and be seen: the small town kid who hasn’t grown into his body, the wing player who’s not big enough, the teen who has some game, but doesn’t have a national attitude, they all have a shot to impress. Reebok even added some extra incentive for the kids: If you impress John Wall, then we’ll fly you out to the Reebok Headquarters in Canton, Mass. for a chance to not only meet five NBA players, but train with them. If you’re a 16-year-old basketball player, does it get any better?
Wall is the perfect spokesman. He was once a no-name high schooler from Raleigh, North Carolina who drove out to a Reebok Breakout Challenge in Chicago and dominated so thoroughly that it propelled him to national status. Two years later, he was the undisputed No. 1 player from his high school class. One year after that, he was the top pick in the NBA Draft. So when we got the chance to set down at Reebok, it was only natural that the Wizards star was introduced last, only right that he was talking the most smack in the gym, only fitting that everyone cared whether or not he could master a few workout techniques during our time training with CrossFit. It was his world. Everyone else was engulfed by it.
After bearing the flight to Boston, and then the 20-minute drive through winding back roads, just past the prestigious Milton Academy, we entered Reebok’s campus, a heaven for anyone obsessed with activity. “Training day IS game day” is the mantra. Outside there are courts and athletic fields. Inside, there are weight rooms, cardio rooms and a basketball court that’s always filled during lunch hour.
However on this day, there won’t be a lunch hour run. Actually there will be, but instead of Reebok employees, it’ll include Wall, Jason Terry, Jameer Nelson, Ramon Sessions and Isaiah Thomas.
We first take a visit to the Reebok store and get hooked up from head to toe – I pick out a black PlayDry training shirt, some dope red shorts and a pair of red ZigNanos. Once we get laced up, it’s around 10 a.m. and the gym floor is packed. There’s a mic stand and a row of chairs stationed on the midcourt sideline and behind us, two floors of spectators lean out over the railings like we’re at Fenway Park. After a noticeable absence the last few years, Reebok basketball is back, Uli Becker, the company’s CEO, says, standing just in front of 10 huge blowout posters of today’s athletes. Darrick Wood… Jonathan Milligan… Daiquan Walker… Rysheed Jordan… Seth Allen… John Wall… Jameer Nelson… Jason Terry… Ramon Sessions… Isaiah Thomas. One by one they are introduced, with the building’s loudeset applause waiting for Wall to come out last.
Rocking his patented setup of what seems like 10 pairs of socks, and after strolling in with his famous JET pose, Jason Terry addresses the crowd, telling jokes (“Don’t ask me anything about Dirk,” to Becker, who is German) and shining light on the stories of all five NBA players – who overcame huge odds to make it.