Attacking a paint occupied by big man Ben Wallace and his monster afro was a scary challenge. It took courage and an understanding that it was probably not going to end well for you.
After leaving Virginia Union and going undrafted, he traveled to Italy for a tryout with the Italian team Viola Reggio Calabria. Eventually he would make his way to the NBA, playing for the Washington Bullets and the Orlando Magic. He would play a few solid seasons there before the Magic traded Wallace along with Chucky Atkins to the Detroit Pistons as compensation in a sign and trade deal for superstar forward and free agent Grant Hill.
That move would lead to his rise to defensive dominance and most memorable years. At merely 6-9, “Big” Ben was usually matched up against guys much taller than him. It didn’t matter. Wallace didn’t back down from anyone. He led the League in rebounding twice (2001-02, 2002-03) and still holds the Pistons all-time record for total blocks (1,486). Along with Dikembe Mutombo, Wallace is the only player to claim four Defensive Player of the Year awards. And of course, he was the anchor of Detroit’s epic 2004 championship squad, helping to keep opposing center Shaquille O’Neal in check during the Finals.
“Anybody in this League can score the basketball,” Ben told SLAM back in 2005. “But what can you do when you’re not scoring? That’s the big thing for me. I don’t need to score to impact the game. I can impact the game in many other ways.”
And the fans loved that about Wallace. He was a player who never averaged 10 points for an entire season, but was a four-time All-Star, appeared on multiple magazin covers, and had little kids rocking afro wigs to his games. Truth is, he didn’t have to touch the ball on offense to put on an electrifying show. With his athleticism, energy and intensity, Wallace made defense and rebounding entertaining as hell.
“Nobody can score without the ball. If you’re a scorer, you’re going to need a guy like me to get the rebound for you,” Wallace said in that ’05 interview. “If nobody rebounds for you, you can’t score. I rebound the basketball. I just take pleasure in getting wins and seeing everybody out there just having fun.”
Ben Wallace did not simply realize his dream of lacing ’em up in the NBA. He became the most accomplished un-drafted player ever. And really, that should tell you everything you need to know about the legend.A true will to win and passion for the game led him to greatness, and to be an inspiration for players everywhere.