Ben Wallace couldn’t shoot. It would take him a week’s worth of games to score 20 points and an hour to do so from the free throw line in a locked gymnasium by himself.
The Pistons ran no plays through him on the court—and Ben never stood further than three feet from the basket. Even from there, he wasn’t seen as a threat to score.
Pro basketball greats are typically measured by their dominance on the floor, and that dominance is based on what they did with the “rock.”
How much flair did they have as a passer? How sharp was their shooting? How competent were they at putting the ball on the floor and moving with it?
Everything is predicated on being hands-on with the basketball.
But Ben Wallace didn’t do any of that. His game was based on not having the ball—unless it was to cradle it after yet another rebound.
The Pistons raised Wallace’s no. 3 to the rafters at the Palace on Saturday night, and today’s Pistons joined in the party by running the defending champion Golden State Warriors out of the gym, 113-95.
The story of Wallace and his ascension from an undrafted afterthought to the heart and soul of an NBA championship team has been well-chronicled, so this isn’t about that.
It’s about the Pistons, and their class in recognizing not one but two offensively-challenged, defensive and rebounding monsters whose path to NBA stardom was, shall we say, less than routine.
Dennis Rodman’s no. 10 was lifted skyward by the Pistons as well a few years ago, and between them, Rodman and Wallace averaged 13 points per game in their careers—combined.
But the Worm and Big Ben also have six Defensive Player of the Year Awards between them as Pistons, and they combined to snag 22.8 rebounds per game.
Not too many basketball franchises would retire the jersey of one defensive stalwart, let alone two.
I submit that this is a reflection on the city for which Rodman and Wallace played.
Detroiters are, at their core, a rather defensive lot. If you’re a lifelong resident of this town, you’re not born with a silver spoon in your mouth—you come into this world with a chip on your shoulder.
Chances are you’ve spent considerable time defending the city against the ignorance of out-of-towners. You recognize that Detroit has had—and continues to have—its issues, but those issues are slowly but surely getting addressed, and besides, what major city doesn’t have similar issues?
Detroit has been the nation’s punching bag, and after a while that gets tiresome.
The city’s faithful has a bunker mentality.
And what comes with a bunker mentality is a tendency to be defensive, and that’s why Detroit sports fans love their gritty, no-frills, dirtbag players who are the 180 degree opposite of the so-called pretty boys.
It follows that while the great Lakers teams of the 1980s embraced their Hollywood home with the glitz and glamour of “Showtime” basketball, the Pistons’ championship teams of 1989 and 1990 were called “The Bad Boys” for their, ahem, aggressive style of defensive play.
Los Angeles = Showtime; Detroit = Bad Boys.
Wallace had his night on Saturday, and it was terrific. His old teammates were there—Chauncey, Rip and Sheed—and so was his coach, Larry Brown. The Pistons played a video tribute and the whole building was electric.
It was Big Ben’s night but the Pistons should take a bow, because two uniform numbers are in the rafters of players who couldn’t have a big scoring night if they were alone on the court.
Rodman of the “Bad Boys” and Wallace of the “Goin’ to Work” Pistons teams—who damn near matched Rodman and company with two straight championships of their own—perfectly represented the city for which they played.
Forget that the Palace is in Auburn Hills. Dennis Rodman and Ben Wallace played their basketball for Detroit, and when I say Detroit I mean the entire region, filled with natives and suburbanites who closely identify with the city’s hard scrabble resilience.
They couldn’t throw the basketball into the ocean but they made sure the other team couldn’t, either.
The Pistons, a franchise that needed about 25 years to start doing things the right way after moving here from Fort Wayne, should get some recognition for richly acknowledging the contributions of two players from small colleges who played a glamorous game without any glamour whatsoever.
Rodman and Wallace were two bulls in the NBA’s china shop. Good for them—and for the Pistons.
Saturday was the franchise’s night, too.