WILL POWER: At 26, Blalock is at the point in his career where he’s not so much auditioning for teams as reminding them what he can do. It’s been a long haul, but if he’s frustrated, it doesn’t show: “When the bell rings and it’s time to go,” he says, “you can’t think like that.”
LAS VEGAS — The Cox Arena is sold out. Everyone is here to see John Wall make his professional debut for the Washington Wizards. The top pick in the 2010 draft, Wall has a game that's undeniably electric, which is why Reebok gave him $25 million to wear their kicks before he even put on a uniform, and why everyone who has anything to do with the NBA is in the building. Everything about him says superstar. He's 19 years old and living the dream.
At the other end of the floor is reality.
Will Blalock, the pride of Mission Hill and a four-year veteran of the professional grind, takes his seat at the end of the Golden State Warriors bench. Barring some extremely good fortune, he won't come remotely close to making as much in his entire career as Wall will get from his rookie contract, let alone his sneaker deal. He's a point guard like Wall, but in every other way the two couldn't be further apart.
Blalock is 26 years old, going on 27, and his NBA career has consisted of exactly 14 games, with his last appearance coming in 2007. In between, he's bounced around from Israel to the Development League to Germany and back again. He doesn't know where he will be playing next year and his future is as shrouded in uncertainty as Wall's is secure.
If not for Wall's presence on the court, the arena would be much quieter during an NBA summer-league game. Typically, the action off the court is far more interesting than anything that happens on the floor. Only here can you bump into the head of the players' union getting a pretzel at the concession stand, or kill an hour trading gossip with a coach at the Hard Rock.
There are 23 teams in Las Vegas and about 270 players, but only a handful actually have NBA contracts. The vast majority, like Blalock, are essentially independent contractors, hustling for their next gig. Some will never make it, while others are locked in basketball limbo: good enough to be there, but not good enough for one of the few jobs available. Blalock falls into the latter category.
"All these guys on the bubble, they're not not NBA players," says David Thorpe, an analyst for espn.com and the executive director of the Pro Training Center in Clearwater, Florida. "They're NBA-[caliber] players. They just need a break."
Blalock's well-connected agent, Reggie Brown, is determined to get him that break. "I'm going to do everything I can to give him the opportunity, because it's his time," Brown says. "I'm not going to ask for a favor. I don't want any favors for him because he's good enough to be there and if he wasn't, I'd tell him."