It’s been a long, hard season for all the Pistons, but it might have been hardest for Ben Wallace.
And now, according to the Detroit News, Wallace might be ready to hang up his sneakers for good.
And while the reports of his retirement might be greatly exaggerated, and a more proper salute will be needed when he officially walks away, I think it is important to touch on what Wallace means as this miserable season drags to a close.
After leaving the team that embraced his toughness, dedication and “going to work” persona in 2006 to sign a big multi-year deal with the Chicago Bulls, Wallace lost much of his luster. His offensive holes were more glaring with the increase in salary and responsibility, and he bounced around between the Bulls, Cleveland and Phoenix.
He returned to Detroit last year as a way to restore some dignity to his career, and finish out his playing days on his own terms. Along the way the boos inside the Palace of Auburn Hills that had accompanied his trips with the rival Bulls and Cavs turned again to cheers and adoration. Not only that, but Wallace rediscovered the spark that had marked his best years. He had lost a step, but he was still a hustling, ferocious defender and was the most important player on a horrible, injury-plagued team last season.
His success led to a new two-year deal with the Pistons, and fans were looking forward to him anchoring the defense on a team that was going to have a plethora of offensive weapons healthy and firing on all cylinders. True, many Pistons fans saw a middling team and the playoffs in doubt, but nobody could have envisioned the horror movie that has been this season. Least of all Ben Wallace.
He deserved more than this dysfunctional squad of malcontents, misfits and square pegs being forced into round holes. He deserved better than the selfish attitudes, poor communication between players and coaches, listless play on the floor and a near team mutiny.
His rejuvenation last year has not been matched this year, and Wallace has taken a step back in every statistical category, and the team’s defense has slid back as well. Perhaps the former fearsome fro should have ridden off into the sunset a year ago. But then again, of the very few positives I will remember from this season, seeing Wallace play, however diminished, will be one of the highlights. I just enjoy seeing him on a basketball court.
I enjoy how he anchors his body and uses leverage against defenders. His quick hands and even quicker reactions that allow him to body up someone without fouling. Hell, I even enjoy his horribly off-balance elbow jump shot that he flits up at the basket every now and then. And I will miss him.
But I think I am ready to see Wallace retire. His friend Tayshaun Prince will be gone and surely the team will do everything in its power to relocate Richard Hamilton as well. The championship era is over and there is no shame in moving on. Wallace has meant more to the franchise than nearly anyone since the Bad Boy era, and I will watch Monday’s contest vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers as if I am watching the last time Ben Wallace will ever step onto his home basketball court.
As much as he wanted the league to “fear the fro,” what frightens me is the thought of what the Detroit Pistons would have ever accomplished without him.