Friday, August 7, 2009

The Ultimate Disgrace: A Ben Wallace Story

From humble beginnings at Virginia Commonwealth University, a bald-headed young man named Ben Wallace aspired to play in the NBA. He went undrafted in 1995, and after a brief stint in Italy was signed as a backup by the Washington Bullets.

Fast forward four years, and Ben becomes a Detroit Piston. Then he becomes a starter. And soon, very slowly, he emerges into a bonafide NBA superstar. By 2004 Ben Wallace is the most feared defensive player in the NBA. The undersized, under-talented kid from small-town Alabama grew a poofy afro and became the symbol of a city. He made it all the way to the top of the NBA the Detroit way: blue-collar hard work. He became one of the greatest Detroit Pistons in history; he was an NBA Champion, a five-time All Star, and a four-time Defensive Player of the Year.

We lauded Ben Wallace, and forgave him his many inadequacies. He couldn't shoot, he couldn't dribble, but heck, it was cute watching him try. As long as he hauled down 18 boards a night and blocked a couple shots into oblivion , he was our knight in a shining afro. We loved him; he loved us, and our mutual love was enough to get us through anything.

Except greed.

The rapacious little bastard pulled a Judas on the entire state of Michigan, and sold us out for a bag of silver coins. Joe Dumars offered Ben a four-year deal worth $10 million dollars a year – seriously, think about that for a second: that’s around fifty thousand dollars per game – to continue playing for the team that made him into a star. Instead, Wallace sold his soul. He kissed Joe D, the man who made him into an icon, on the cheek and betrayed him. He turned his back on me and you and every Pistons fan in the world, and signed with Chicago (a division rival no less!) for only 2 extra million per year. Seriously, in the scope of things, what’s the difference? 40 million dollars… 48 million dollars… What’s eight extra million?? (I’m being sarcastic, but also completely serious).

When it happened, a lot of 'sports people' said they understood Wallace's decision; it was "just business", and Wallace had to do what was best for himself and his family. Haven’t these heartless monsters ever heard of loyalty? Didn't Michael Corleone say it was "just business" when he ordered the murder of anyone who stood in his way? Since when does sports have to be a business anyay?? Isn’t it really all about fun and fanship? What about when Detroit legend Steve Yzerman stayed with the Wings later in his career even though it cost him a good five million per season? What about Tom Brady taking a pay cut to make room for Randy Moss? Justin Verlander, one of the best baseball pitchers in the entire world, is only the fourth highest paid pitcher on the Tigers, and you never hear him saying a word about it. Can you really put a price tag on allegiance? How much does it cost to sell your soul to your enemies? Apparently, for Ben Wallace, only 2 million dollars per year.

So Ben went away to the Bulls, and Detroit removed the Big Ben Gong from the Palace. Kids all across the mitten state mourned the death of their hero, and sadly put away their afro wigs, in hopes that the Pistons would sign Josh Childress or Diana Ross so they could pull them back out again. The Pistons moved on, but they were never really the same. Chauncey, Rip, Tayshaun and Rasheed scrapped together another solid year, but folded in the playoffs as usual. It wasn't until Dumars forgot what the heck he was doing that the whole team went to pieces and leaves us in our current state of disarray, but that's another story.

The treacherous Ben Wallace fled to Chicago, where his basketball abilities were exposed like a French woman at the beach. He was finally revealed as an offensive liability; he was shown to be nothing but a great help-side defender with limited one-on-one skills who could only thrive on a team with perfect chemistry like the Pistons. Everyone realized he was a 6’9” guy posing as a center who never had much of an interior presence on either end of the floor. In Detroit all of these things were well-kept secrets. In Chicago it became public news. Big Ben became just regular Ben. Wallace was more than just a hinderance on the offensive end, he was an absolute joke. Everyone in Chicago got a good chuckle watching him launch those hideous airballs from the free throw line. In Detroit, we overlooked his obvious deficiencies; we embraced him for who he was. But in the Windy City, forget all about the Big Ben gong; forget the fro. Ben lost all his fans, lost his ferociousness, lost everything. His numbers dropped in every statistic, except one: his salary. He became a mediocre bench player, an offensive burden, and to be frank, the most overpaid player in the NBA.

How ironic.

So the traitor got traded, to another division rival, where Wallace joined up with LeBron and his merry band of idiots. Big Ben became even smaller in Cleveland than he was in Chi-Town, and after a year and a half of a stunningly horrible 3 PPG and 4 RPG, he was traded to Phoenix for the only player in the NBA who is more washed-up than he is: Shaquille O’Neal. The Suns had no interest in allowing Wallace to play even one minute for their team, but used him solely as a means to increase cap space. They bought out his contract, offering him $10 million up-front for the $14 million remaining on his deal. He accepted, and then mulled retirement for several weeks.

At this point, it seemed that the sad career of Ben Wallace had ended, just as irrelevantly as it began. But then today, I saw a small headline on that caught my attention: “Pistons ink one-year deal with Wallace.”

‘Please be Gerald Wallace,' I thought. ‘Or Rasheed. Or some Wallace I’ve never heard of. Anyone but…’

But no. Judas is back in town. A one-year deal for the veteran minimum $1.4 million (talk about ironic). A back-up for none other than Kwame Brown. With Maxiell, Villanueva, and Chris Wilcox, I don't know where Wallace is going to find any minutes. Not that I care about that.

What I want to know is: what's in it for Ben? Why would Ben want to drag his sorry butt back into the Palace? He's not going to get his jersey #3 back, so what's he going to do? Be #00 or something stupid like that? Is he just hoping to retire a Piston and salvage a little of his dignity? Probably yes. Does he deserve to have his jersey retired in Detroit? Yes, although it's tough to admit that now. Will he contribute anything more than 4 points and 4 rebounds a night in 2009? Honestly, I doubt it.

From a strictly basketball standpoint, it’s a good deal for the Pistons. We needed depth in the frontcourt and a defensive presence; of course we just added Wilcox for that very reason, but I guess it doesn't hurt to have more depth.

But what about a fan’s standpoint? As a human being, with feelings and emotions who is subject to pain and betrayal, this is egregious. I don’t want him back in a Pistons uniform. I don’t want him back in the Palace. I don’t want to see his ugly face on my TV. I want to go to a few games next season and BOO him every time he touches the ball. (Which won’t be very often).

It’s just absurd. It's utterly absurd. How's Ben going to look Rip and Tayshaun in the eye and say anything to them?

“Hey guys … uhh, sorry I quit on you all like that … and sorry I destroyed our team for a couple million bucks ... but hey, remember when I almost fought Ron Artest? That was cool right? … but then he fought all those fans instead … err ... but remember that one three-pointer I made back in ‘05? That was pretty cool right? … Tayshaun? … that was funny remember? …Guys? ... Where are you going ...? ”

What an ass.

To cap this off, I’d like to tell a completely true story.

Back in 2003, at the height on my Pistons euphoria, my brother and sister-in-law and I were in the Palace for a regular season game. During the shoot-around we were standing near a tunnel right as Mr. Wallace, my favorite player at the time, was jogging out onto the court. We all shouted “Ben! BEN!!” and he looked over at us and grinned. We reached out to high-five him and he slapped us all with his gigantic palm: first my brother, then Crissi, and lastly me. I was so utterly elated with the surprise of the moment that I didn’t want it to end, so I clutched onto his finger for just a second too long, long enough that he pulled it away and gave me a strange look as he jogged out onto the court.

Looking back to that day, I wish I had broken his stupid finger. Or bit it. Or taken out my keys and stabbed him in the hand.

The end.

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