It has been 716 days, nearly two full calendar years, since John Wall last played in an NBA game. He first went down with a bone spurs injury in his heel, then while recovering from that he ruptured his Achilles tendon after falling in his house.
On Friday night, he is expected to finally make his much-awaited return, as the Houston Rockets kick off their preseason schedule against the Chicago Bulls with an 8 p.m. tip-off on NBATV. Ahead of that match-up, Wall shared his thoughts and emotions as he looks forward to getting back out there after all the hard work it took just to get to this point.
"It’s going to be a lot of anxiousness and a lot of excitement to step on that floor when the jumpball goes up," Wall told reporters on Zoom.
"But once the ball touches my hands one time, it’s over with. Now, it’s play basketball, get out there and have fun."
If you ask others who have gone through the same injury before, they will tell you the most difficult hurdle to get over is the mental side of recovery. As Chauncey Billups told NBC Sports Washington last year, he recalls the trouble he had getting comfortable doing the same movement he sustained the injury on.
Wall seems to have picked up on that notion, as he explained what he has seen from other players who have come back from major injuries before.
"When I step in between those four lines on the basketball court, I don’t think about any injury I’ve had in the past. I think that’s what makes me the type of basketball player I am, that comes back and plays with that same aggression," he said.
"You can kind of tell when somebody’s timid with the way they’re playing when they come back. I just go out there with the mindset that if I feel like I’m healthy and my body’s right, I’m going to do what I do best. I’m not going to think about it. I feel like the ones that do think about it, it takes a little bit of time for them to get back to their self or to get back to the level they was at before."
The Rockets will play four preseason games before beginning the regular season on Dec. 23 against the Oklahoma City Thunder. It is unclear how much Wall will play during their exhibition schedule. He could use the reps to work his way back, but it would also be understandable if Houston played it safe given the investment they have now made in him, with roughly $131.5 million remaining on his contract.
No matter how much he plays, expect it to be an emotional moment when he gets back out there, both for Wall and those who have grown to appreciate him over the years.