Detroit Pistons: Ben Wallace making HOF culminates underdog story

Ben Wallace attends the 2018 NBA Awards Show. (Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images)
Ben Wallace attends the 2018 NBA Awards Show. (Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images) /

Former Detroit Pistons great Ben Wallace  literally had the toughest road to becoming a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. When it was announced Sunday he will be part of the Class of 2021, Wallace became the first player who had not been drafted.

There are a lot of paths taken to Springfield, Massachusetts, the home of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, but they all had, until now, one thing in common: Every player, in the modern era, who became a Hall of Famer, had been picked in the NBA Draft in some round.

But Ben Wallace broke the mold, as he has done throughout his career.

Ben Wallace of the Detroit Pistons becomes first undrafted player to be named to the Hall of Fame

Nine of Wallace’s 16 NBA seasons came with the Pistons, ending his career with Detroit in 2012. Wallace still lives in the Detroit area, where he runs his own model car racing company and is a part-owner of the G-League’s Grand Rapids Drive.

How the Hall of Fame career of Ben Wallace began

Wallace might have never had a pro basketball career, except one of his older brothers (he is the 10th of 11 children) signed him up for a basketball camp in his native Alabama, run by NBA player Charles Oakley.

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Oakley took a liking to the hard-working youngster. He sent Wallace to play for a friend at Cuyahoga County (Oh.) Community College. Wallace averaged 17 points and 7 blocks there, but big colleges did not come calling, so Oakley, got him into at his alma mater, Virginia Union, a NCAA Division II program.

Again, Wallace performed well, being named a first team All-America player and helped Virginia Union to the NCAA Division II Final Four.

Also, once again, Wallace’s production was ignored by those at the next level.

His smallish size (6-9, 240), for a center, and lack of big scoring numbers , caused him to be overlooked by the pro scouts.

After not being picked in the 1996 NBA draft, Wallace got a tryout with the Boston Celtics, but was cut. He actually went overseas and played in Italy for a month before the Washington Bullets (they were not the Wizards yet) agreed to sign him.

Wallace did not become a full-time starter in the NBA until the 1999-2000 season, where he was listed as a power forward for the Orlando Magic.

He was then sent in the off-season to Detroit as part of the Grant Hill sign-and-trade. He was immediately made the Pistons starting center, and his Hall of Fame career really began.

2004 and the ‘Get to Work’ Pistons

Finishing first in rebounding and blocked shots is great, and racking up Defensive Player of the Year, All-NBA and All-Star honors is nice, but for a player’s reputation, it is all about getting that ring.

Could a team with a small center who contributed little on offense really win an NBA championship? Turns out the answer is yes.

In 2004, the Pistons were heavy underdogs against the Kobe and Shaq-led Los Angeles Lakers. They had pulled off an upset of the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals, merely to get there.

Yet, Detroit handled the Lakers easily, in just five games. Playing 41 minutes a game, mostly contending with the much bigger Shaquille O’Neal; Wallace averaged 10.8 points, 13.6 rebounds, 1.8 steals and one block in the series.

He was the shortest center of an NBA championship team since Wes Unseld with Washington in 1978.

Fear the ‘Fro indeed

Ben Wallace looked a bit taller than he was (that 6-9 height is debated by many) due to a big Afro hairstyle he wore for most of his career. His Twitter handle is @fearthefro, so he has embraced it.

Wallace was never handed anything and he was not blessed with great size or shooting touch. He got where he did through grit and determination with a huge basketball IQ. Wallace was the perfect kind of player for a blue-collar attitude town like Detroit, and the fans embraced him.

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Ben Wallace is a perfect example of someone who never accepted the word ‘No’ and proved through hard work, you can achieve greatness. That is a lesson that translates off the court as well as inspiration for players who may not be the biggest or fastest.