The record-setting Ben Wallace (Getty Images)
Ben Wallace was once a Boston Celtics training camp hopeful. Following that, he was an athletic and raw project with the Washington Wizards, a one-year wonder for an Orlando Magic team that was designed to lose but nearly made the playoffs, a champion in Detroit, a washout as a hoped-for franchise player in Chicago, a hard-working liability of sorts in Cleveland, and he's finally ending his career as a welcomed reference to the good old days on a rebuilding team back in Detroit.
On Tuesday, he will play his 1,055th career NBA game, setting a record for the most games played by an undrafted player. And, as he prepared to set that record, he told the Detroit News on Monday that 2011-12 will be his last season as a pro. From Eric Lacy:
"No consideration coming back," Wallace said after practice. "This is definitely my last year."
It's probably time. Wallace is 37, but he's an old 37. Big Ben played well into the playoffs for eight straight seasons, including two trips to the Finals, all the while working as an undersized center. Or undersized power forward, if he ever played the position. In fact, he's probably (at 6-6) a little too short for small forward. This is probably why then-Celtics coach M.L. Carr tried to convert Wallace to shooting guard during Ben's first training camp. Wallace says even then he "knew [he] wasn't a two-guard," but Carr still found him unsuitable for a team that went on to lose 67 games.
This year's Pistons team won't lose 67 games, mainly because the NBA will only play 66 games this year. The team isn't playing all that well, and Wallace is turning in a tough season as Detroit's sometimes-starter. His rebound rate (the percentage of all available rebounds he pulls in) is a little under 15 percent this year, a sharp drop from the 23.2 mark that he managed while leading the league in 2002-03.
Wallace isn't around to pull in 20 rebounds a game, though. He's on the Pistons to provide toughness, to set screens, and to hopefully impart some defensive wisdom to second-year Detroit center Greg Monroe. Monroe is having an All-Star level season offensively, but he gives defense a lick and a promise, sort of the polar opposite of Wallace in his prime. When Lacy asked if Wallace had any interest in becoming an NBA coach following his retirement, he mentioned "going home and raising these beautiful kids I got."
If he coached, Wallace pointed out, "it will be for ages 6 to 10." I bet they'll listen.
With no playoffs in the offing, we've got about two months left to watch Wallace add to his impressive longevity record. Considering his ascension, his look, his accomplishments, and his impact, it's fair to say that the NBA really hasn't ever seen anything like him.
- Ben Wallace