Wallace bought a championship belt for every single one of his teammates after the Pistons won the title in 2004. Wallace wore his proudly. After all, what was the NBA to Wallace if not a professional wrestling reenactment; a universe that perpetuates the good/bad binary? Wrestling fans cling onto the storytelling of professional wrestling because they know deep down that good will always prevail. A fan’s belief can be tested through the twists and turns that plotlines often create, but ultimately they are rarely led astray. Yet half of the wrestling experience is bracing for the inevitable conspiracy that threatens to ravage the pure narrative. There is backstabbing, collusion, and puppeteering from the forces that be. NBA fans caught a glimpse of this two summers ago in how easy it was to link Miami’s Big Three to wrestling factions built to be hated. For a moment, the NBA was a platform for the wrestling idiom. And the blind, uninformed vitriol and derision reached caricatured levels that would feel at home at any WWE event. Angry fans jumped to collusion and conspiracy. That’s the world Rasheed Wallace inhabits.
I’ve always felt the same way about ‘Sheed. He doesn’t make sense as a typical athlete — he doesn’t have the same motivations, he doesn’t say the right things, etc. But as a pro wrestling personality? He was born for that. Here’s what I wrote about him in my book:
The more I’ve thought about Wallace, the more the concept of what he represented in the NBA hit me, aided after winning the 2004 title when Wallace bought the entire team championship belts. Rasheed Wallace would’ve been a huge star in the WWE. Rasheed Wallace as pro wrestler is the only comparison that works for him.
The modern WWE has successfully blurred the explicitly ‘good guy/bad guy’ roles that were made famous by stars in the 1980s and 1990s like Hulk Hogan, who portrayed the super hero fighting for flag waving, saying your prayers and vitamins (good thing kids weren’t taking the same vitamins Hulk was). Modern pro wrestlers are brash, say swear words, drink beer and connect to the crowd despite being originally intended as bad guys. Their collective actions aren’t definable as protagonistic or antagonistic, just like Wallace. Yes, he got into trouble and couldn’t control his emotions, but unlike most players who have those types of issues, he also was a key part of very good teams (He played in seven conference finals, two NBA Finals and won a title and his teams made the playoffs 14 straight seasons), he was unselfish and one of the more fundamentally sound players in the league during his career. He was complex, with striking good qualities as well as some obvious bad ones.
‘Sheed was packaged as a ‘bad guy’ by the media. Despite that, he showed up in Detroit and it was impossible not to love him. He was loud. His signature entrance, when P.A. announcer John Mason would call out his name in the starting lineup and he’d strut the wrong way, towards the crowd, chest puffed out as everyone chanted, ‘SHEEEEED!,’ was better than any professional wrestling entrance. It even had the accompanying pyrotechnics that are a customary part of every wrestler’s themed entrance now. He was the People’s Champion, fans loved Wallace as much for the outrageous way he behaved as they did for his talent.
Seriously, hand ‘Sheed a mic and tell me he wouldn’t be as good at improvisationally hurling out insults with the WWE’s best. Tell me he doesn’t have an understanding of the showmanship, the over-the-top nature of behaving to elicit huge emotional reactions out of a crowd. Rasheed Wallace was undoubtedly a gifted basketball player, but his most natural gifts were those personality traits that made people cheer him and love him in spite of how he sometimes acted.