Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 4/25/12
I always say that Ben Wallace is one of the best stories I have ever covered. If you took his story to Hollywood and tried to sell it, they'd probably tell you it was too farfetched, that it wasn't believable. Imagine this: An undrafted, somewhat undersized power forward who has limited offensive skills goes on to win an NBA title, four Defensive Player of the Year awards, make four All-Star teams and set an NBA record for most games played by an undrafted player. No one could have possibly foreseen it back in August of 2000 when Wallace came to Detroit along with guard Chucky Atkins in a sign-and-trade deal for Grant Hill, who went to Orlando. In his first season with the Pistons, 2000-01, the team went 32-50 under coach George Irvine but Wallace was already showing signs of the player he would become. Wallace became the first Piston in history to lead the team in rebounds, steals and blocks. He also led the league with 1,052 rebounds, the first Piston since Dennis Rodman in 1992-93 to surpass 1,000 rebounds. But the game that has always stood out to me happened the next season. I was visiting relatives in California so I wasn't even at the game, but it was the nationally televised game on a Sunday afternoon against the Boston Celtics. Watching on TV, I couldn't believe it. Wallace was seemingly everywhere on the court. In 44 minutes, he had 28 (!) rebounds and six blocks to go along with 13 points. Boston's starting five of Paul Pierce, Antoine Walker, Eric Williams, Tony Battie and Kenny Anderson combined had just two more rebounds than Wallace. It was the perfect example of how a non-offensive player could completely control a game, something rather rare in the NBA. The SportsTicker story from that game mentioned how back then, the Pistons would give fans in a lower section a white T-shirt with a red 'R' on it every time Wallace snagged a rebound. The story said, "By the end of the game, it looked like T-shirt giveaway day." "I wanted to wrap the T-shirts all the way around the building, but they told me they were running out, so I had to slow down in the fourth quarter," Wallace said. "Next time maybe they'll have enough T-shirts. "It's been a lot of fun to know the fans have recognized everything that I have done. My game isn't always pretty, so it's nice to know they appreciate it." The Celtics were highly impressed with Wallace's defensive heroics. "He's the Defensive Player of the Year," Battie said, an accurate prediction. "He's the 2000 Rodman." Under first-year coach Rick Carlisle, the Pistons reversed their record from the previous season, going 50-32 and finished first in the Central Division. Wallace emerged as the face of the Pistons' "Goin' to Work" campaign with his rebounding and resplendent Afro. When you heard the gong at the Palace, you knew Big Ben was in the house and he was going to give you everything he had. As big as the highly muscled Wallace seemed to be, when the Pistons played the Los Angeles Lakers, you could see that compared to Shaquille O'Neal, the Lakers' massive center, Wallace wasn't so huge. Wallace, listed at 6-foot-9, 240 pounds, literally disappeared behind the 7-foot-1, 325-pound O'Neal when he was defending him. But Wallace didn't give his ground. O'Neal was forced to fight for it. Everyone remembers the camaraderie of that 2004 title team. Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Lindsey Hunter, Mehmet Okur, Corliss Williamson, Mike James, Darvin Ham, Elden Campbell and Darko Milicic all seemed to get along. When the team was on the road, it was never 12 cabs for 12 players. It was a team dinner all the time. Another great memory is the 2006 All-Star Game. Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Billups and Hamilton all made the team as reserves. The East trailed by 21 points in that game until the Pistons entered the game. As ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan wrote, "while (LeBron) James was the MVP and the main offensive star for the winner, the complexion of the game was changed by the defensive intensity exhibited by the four members of the Pistons after they checked into the game late in the third quarter." It was Wallace's steal that led to a 3-on-2 break with Hamilton and Billups. Billups scored to give the East a four-point lead in the fourth quarter. The East never trailed after that. Although Wallace departed as a free agent after that season, he was welcomed home in 2009 after three seasons away. Now, unless his teammates talk him out of it or he changes his mind, the Pistons chapter of the Ben Wallace story will come to an end Thursday night. "Undrafted, coming in, you are just excited to get a uniform with your name on the back," Wallace said. "I got an opportunity, and I made the most of it. I guess this is a testimony to the work I've put into the NBA. "I'm going to retire, but I'm never going to quit. I want to be on the floor for every second I can until it's over."
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