Ishmail ‘Ish’ (The Mailman) Wainright might be the newest Phoenix Suns player, but he is already quickly becoming acclimated to the Valley and gaining legions of fans.
On a bright and sunny afternoon in April, Wainright, his manager and a few members of his family were trying to keep a low-profile during a photoshoot in the East Valley. But the towering Phoenix Suns player with the cool demeanor and dazzling grin didn’t go unnoticed for long. Fans started coming off the street, asking for photographs, autographs, driving by and honking, and giving him well wishes as the Phoenix Suns were heading into the semi-finals at the time.
Standing 6’5 and weighing in at 250 lbs., Wainright’s sports career could have gone in just about any direction. “I’ve played literally everything,” says Wainright. “I used to be a swimmer. I was a good swimmer and won multiple competitions. I played baseball and was a third baseman.”
“I quit soccer because it was too much running,” he adds with a laugh. “Then there was basketball and football. My dad was a coach for basketball, flag football, baseball… Anything you can think of.” Wainright’s grandfather was NBA player Maurice King. Although he never got the chance to meet his grandfather, Wainright has seen footage of him and doesn’t recognize much of his grandfather’s playing style in his own.
In college, Wainright played basketball for the Baylor Bears for four seasons and switched gears into football. He joined the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent, but alas, did not make the team. The passion for football that he had as a youngster growing up in Kansas City, Mo. was no longer there. The next day after he was waived, he called his agent and said he was ready to commit to basketball and began training hard.
Wainright played in the German and French professional basketball clubs, and eventually signed with the Toronto Raptors in August 2021, only to be waived by the team after two months. Several days later, he signed with the Phoenix Suns, and a few weeks ago, the Suns converted his previously signed two-way contract into a standard contract.
“This is real. This is what I want to do. This is my passion. This is what I love. This is going to change not only my life, but my family’s life!”
Wainright is Phoenix Suns’ No. 12 and a power forward who has had limited playing time in the 2021-2022 season but has made his minutes count. In a pre-playoffs game against the LA Clippers on April 6, Wainright posted up 20 points, stepping up with assists and two and three-pointers while winning the admiration of Suns fans at the away game. We should all expect big things to be delivered by The Mailman in the coming season.
Phoenix Suns’ Jae Crowder has mentored Wainright in the months since he joined the team. “When I first got here, I didn’t know too much about Jae,” he says. “I only knew the Jae on TV, not Jae the person. From day one, he took me under his wing and said, ‘I got you. Don’t worry about it, little brother.’ And he’s a veteran. So, everything he says, I want to listen. He’s been in the league 11-plus years.” Crowder was also at least partially a factor in Wainright’s decision to switch from Adidas to Nike Kobe shoes. “That’s all I wear now!”
He has gelled quickly with the Suns and now with a standard contract in place, the Valley is feeling more like home. “Everyone has welcomed me with open arms,” says Wainright, who is a Biltmore area resident. “This is the coolest team I’ve ever been a part of, and I’ve been part of a lot of teams.”
Wainright is still discovering the Valley and has some favorite restaurants, too. “I’ve been on some hikes… and I’ve tried a few new restaurants. Everyone goes to Toca Madera. I love Toca. Shout-out to Eric and Eddie at Toca! And Brunch and Sip… The best ever! Brunch. And. Sip. Brunch and Sip and Ezbachi food truck are by far my favorites, and you can quote me on that!” He also calls out Taco Blanco, The Parlor, The Breakfast Club and Matt’s Big Breakfast as additional restaurants he likes.
In their current series against the Dallas Mavericks, Wainright is engaged, ready to go when needed and using a strategy to stay sharp. He explains, “(Use) short term memory and learn from the games before. Lock and focusing on the adjustments are key.”
“Having a chance to be in the playoffs is a dream come true,” Wainright finishes. In the upcoming off-season, Wainright will head over to Uganda and play for its national team in hopes of propelling them into the next Olympics.