While Jeremy Lin is setting the world on fire and showing the world what an undrafted rookie can do, another one is riding off into the sunset. It has been a slow go to the end for Ben Wallace, but the end is nearing.
Before playing in his 1,055th game of his career, the most by an undrafted player since the ABA-merger in 1977, Wallace announced that this season will be his last.
Ben Wallace might be one of the most surprising players to come through NBA history. At one point, this starting All-Star center was considered a guard by the Boston Celtics and thrown on the trash heap for the Washington Bullets/Wizards to pick up.
“It takes a special type of guy to stay at something long enough to make it to this level,” Wallace told Noah Trister of the Associated Press. “A lot of times you’re being told that you’re too this, you’re too that, you can’t do this, you can’t do that.
“Once you get here, you want to be able to show everybody that you’re capable of going out and playing at a high level night in and night out. I’m just proud to have had the opportunity to come here and play.”
He really found his footing and turned into the most dominant defensive force in the league, anchoring the Detroit Pistons to two Finals appearances and plenty of Playoff victories and deep postseason runs. He won Defensive Player of the Year four times and went to four All-Star games, starting in two of them. He was named to the First Team All-Defense five times.
Statistics don’t really do his play justice — 5.9 points per game, 9.8 rebounds per game and 0.141 win shares per 48 minutes. It was how well his teams did that made Wallace so good.
At least, with the Pistons. When he signed his big contract with the Bulls, he seemed unable to live up to the expectations of his 3-year, $40 million-plus contract. That was just too much to ask from a 32-year-old defensive ace. Wallace’s skills and value have declined over the years.
Now, he is playing out his final season in Detroit.
Wallace’s legacy is going to be difficult to judge. He is extremely respected by his peers and an incredibly hard worker — obviously he would have to be to go so long in the league despite never developing much offense outside of the area around the rim. But those limitations and the limited run of his extreme success could make him more a nice story rather than one of the all-times. And there are people who believe he is up there and deserves some Hall of Fame consideration.
Still, no one should let whatever legacy Wallace leaves as a hindrance to his accomplishment in staying in the league the last 16 years when a whole bunch of teams passed over him and gave up on him. Wallace, if anything, proved that you never know when the next big player will fall into your lap. All they need is that opportunity.