Pistons, Ben Wallace perfect in season finale

With apologies to Ben Gordon, Rodney Stuckey, Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight, who all had nice moments to watch, this will solely be focused on Ben Wallace, as it should be.

Earlier this season, in a record-breaking performance by Ben Wallace against the Spurs, I wrote this:

Wallace’s 28-rebound performance against the Toronto Raptors on April 17, 2001, even inspired me to go out and spend some of my minimum wage gas station earnings on a Pistons hat. The clerk at Dunham’s kind of smirked. They weren’t moving much Pistons merch at the time. I always took pride in how beaten up that hat was when the Pistons won a championship a few years later and everyone I knew was suddenly wearing Pistons apparel. I knew before them that Wallace was special, and I’m sure the diehards like myself out there took similar satisfaction in loving what Wallace brought to the table before the masses even knew who he was.

I have hundreds of random Wallace memories like that floating around my head right now. Here’s a sampling:

  • My AOL Instant Messenger handle in college was ILikeBenWallace (and I think that was my old Hotmail e-mail password, although I’m sure that account is deactivated by now, so don’t go getting any ideas you enterprising spammers out there).
  • I always seriously stated to people that my biggest dream was to have Wallace attend my wedding. When I finally coerced an actual normal person into marrying me, my co-best men failed in securing a Wallace appearance at the reception, but did present a PhotoShop of Wallace and I watching movies in my parents’ basement. It was met with awkward stares from the mostly non-basketball fans in attendance, but it remains the best gift I’ve ever received for any occasion.
  • I cried when I got married. I cried when my dad passed away. I cried when my son was born. And I cried a little tonight. Those are the only times I can remember crying as an adult. Don’t get it twisted — I’m not saying those events are equal in my life. There’s clearly a hierarchy. I’m not as psychotic as I sometimes appear (usually when replying to commenters who make me mad), but watching the way Ben Wallace plays basketball has profoundly affected me in ways I can’t put into words. Ben Wallace playing basketball has had a meaningful, spiritual impact on my life that is unexplainable, and I think that same thing goes for many who have watched him in Detroit.
  • Part of the reason I’ve never fully warmed up to Rodney Stuckey is because he wears Wallace’s number. There, I said it. It feels liberating.
  • I firmly believe with every fiber of my being that Wallace was a top five player in the league in his prime and that he’s a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame.

It was impossible not to enjoy every second of tonight’s win over Philly, from Wallace showing that he’s still a statistically impactful player (7 points, 12 rebounds a steal and a block in 23 minutes), to the awesome video montages and chance to reminisce about Wallace as a centerpiece of some of the best defensive teams the NBA has ever seen, to teammates having to drag him off the bench, back into the game in the final two minutes when the Palace crowd started chanting ‘We Want Ben.’ I watched all of that, knowing I had to write something after the game, and dreading it. Earlier today, Dan Feldman wrote a nice, heartfelt and rational open letter (sidenote: I also loved the title … ‘My Advice to Ben Wallace’ — that’s the great thing about Feldman, he knows his advice is welcome by anyone at any time) to Wallace, mostly encouraging him to make the best decision for him. Rationally, if Wallace wants to retire, he should. It pains me to say it, but he should if that’s what he wants.

What is hard for me is Wallace can still play at a high level. This season, he was Detroit’s third best player. That’s not hyperbole. His impact in limited minutes is still there. Physically, he’s far from finished. When it comes to basketball intelligence and work ethic, he has even more he can impart to this team than just on-court production. Like Feldman said, selfishly, I want him to come back, but it’s actually not completely selfish — he can help next season. So, after watching tonight’s game, hearing this from Fox Sports Detroit’s Mateen Cleaves (sidenote part deux: I loved Mateen quoting Bon Jovi with a ‘Blaze of Glory line tonight, whether it was inadvertent or not), who talked to Wallace and his wife before the game, I’m encouraged that it might not be over:

“I would not be surprised if he comes back. She wants him to be a stay at home dad, but he can still play.”

I certainly don’t want Wallace to make his wife mad by playing again, but if he’s truly considering coming back next season, that will be a fantastic, positive development for Detroit.

I was more positive, however, after hearing Wallace say this to Fox Sports Detroit’s Ryan Field:

“I like the direction they’re headed in right now. It’s tough to walk away from a team like this.”

That was my biggest takeaway from this game. This team, this season, has been hard to watch a lot. I haven’t been shy at expressing my disappointment during those lows. But it’s easy to be negative when you’re watching just about every second of Pistons basketball (You tend to see more negative than positive when you don’t pick and choose when you watch … we do this for you folks. PistonPowered = People’s Champions). Tonight’s game gave me a chance to step back and take a deep breath. I understand the realities of this team — the salary picture is not pretty, so adding impact free agents will be hard; they probably won’t draft high enough to land the kind of impact player they sorely need; they have bad contracts that are hard or nearly impossible to trade for value. I get it. But did you see them ALL wearing headbands tonight? Did you see how much they were rooting for each other? Did you see how pumped they were to put on a good show for what might have been Wallace’s last game?

I know that stuff doesn’t “matter.” But it also “matters.” I’m not making sense right now. But the thing is, we’ve watched a team the last couple seasons that didn’t seem to care all that much, that didn’t seem to like playing with each other and Wallace was a part of those teams. Those teams contributed to Wallace thinking this would be his last season. This team, though? This team has Wallace wavering. This team has Wallace feeling positive that the organization is moving in the right direction. And if that’s good enough for Wallace, I have absolutely nothing to complain about.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zo80tqqRv4E&version=3&hl=en_US]

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