1055 career games. Many players have played more in the NBA than Detroit Pistons center, Ben Wallace. Current players Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, Tim Duncan, Jason Kidd, Juwan Howard, Kevin Garnett and Derek Fisher all have played more games than Ben Wallace. Heck, when the season ends, Wallace won’t even crack the top 50 all-time. But when he plays in that 1055th game tonight, it will be a record breaker. No player in the history of the NBA that was undrafted will have played in as many games as the 4-time Defensive Player of the Year. It isn’t known if that was the motivation for why Wallace played one more year in the league, but he has announced that he will indeed retire at the end for the 2011-2012 season.
Go 12 years and remember where the Pistons were. Grant Hill was gone. He was traded for some guys named Chucky Atkins and Ben Wallace. Who? That’s what Pistons fans said. This team was destined to be in the toilet for years. They just let the best player in the game go to Orlando for a couple of throw-away names. I mean, Wallace would be a nice complimentary part for a team. A good rebounder, pretty decent defender. Nothing special. Nothing to get excited about. What Piston fans didn’t know is that they just found the cornerstone of a championship team.
It is too hard to say whether or not Joe Dumars made the deal to make contract work, or if he saw something in Ben Wallace that every single team in the league had overlooked in the 1996 Draft, and what Orlando and Washington didn’t see either. He played college ball at Virgina Union, the same place as former NBA rebounding and defensive standout, Charles Oakley. He dominated division two, even scoring in double digits both seasons he played there. See, Wallace had offers from D-1 schools, but not to play basketball. They wanted him to lineup on the football field. Wallace wanted to play basketball, and that is why he chose VU. He would sign as an undrafted free agent with the Washington Bullets. Playing behind Chris Webber and Juwan Howard made it difficult to break the lineup. But, in his limited action, he managed to outwork everyone else on the court. He made sure it counted. He was then traded to the Magic, and earned himself starter minutes for the one season he played there. Then the Grant Hill deal happened.
Dennis Rodman should not be insulted when this is said, but Ben Wallace finally replaced him when he arrived in Detroit. If anything was missing from the Grant Hill era after the Bad Boys all left, it was hard work and grit. Something that Rodman embodied. Wallace would average 13 rebounds per game, including 4 offensive boards, while having over a 1.5 steals and 3 blocks per game over the next 6 seasons. The Pistons would reach the playoffs in 5 of his six seasons, 4 straight Eastern Conference Finals, 2 NBA Finals, and 1 Championship. He was the catalyst for the defensive revival in Detroit. Little kids wore fake afro’s games to show their support of him. Fear the Fro became a catchphrase in the Motor City. His number 3 jersey was the hottest selling jersey of all Pistons. Not Chauncey Billups or Rip, but Big Ben Wallace. Every single time he ripped down a rebound, the Big Ben Clock at the Palace tolled. The Pistons mantra was “Time to go to Work”, and it was Wallace that brought that blue-collar attitude with him and instilled it in the franchise.
There was a messy divorce when his contract ran out following the 2006 season. Ben thought that the Pistons would give him a max deal to say thank you for all those years. But they couldn’t afford that, not in this NBA, and not with all the talent they still had on their roster at the time. He also was showing some decline in his pay, and there was no way to justify that deal. He took the money with the Bulls and left Auburn Hills. There was a bad taste in fans mouths. Thought he was greedy, but this is a business and this was his last shot at a big payday. He didn’t last long in Chicago. They were looking to strike quickly with him, but they realized father time was catching up with the hardest working player in the league. They then quickly went into a youth movement and shipped him over to Cleveland. After a season and half with the Cavs, Wallace and the Pistons decided it was time to make amends. He turned 3 seasons ago to be the link from the past, and to provide some veteran leadership to a young team.
It has been quiet for Ben Wallace these last few years, much like it was when his career began. But people know who he is now, unlike then. And after he passes Avery Johnson tonight with his 1055th game played, people aren’t going to wonder how he got there. Ben Wallace busted his butt each and every night. He trained hard, he practiced hard, and he played hard. He should be celebrated greatly when he finally hangs it up at season end. He was truly one of the greats.