10 Ben Wallace Moments That Re-built the Pistons from the Ground Up

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On the heels of Ben Wallace’s jersey retirement ceremony during halftime of this Saturday’s game against the Golden State Warriors, we’ve collected a series of moments throughout Wallace’s tenure in Detroit that serve as checkpoints in the Pistons’ journey from Central Division doormat to one of the most revered teams in league history.

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August 3, 2000 – Ben Wallace Arrives in Detroit in Exchange for Grant Hill

Ben Wallace Pistons
Photo: Detroit Pistons/NBA photo

Depending on who you talk to, Chucky Atkins was rumored to be joined by one of three possible frontcourt options in Grant Hill’s sign-and-trade with the Orlando Magic in 2000. While John Amaechi and Bo Outlaw were both discussed as potential returns, Orlando and newly minted Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars eventually settled on a relative unknown: Ben Wallace.

Wallace was low key superb during his first year in Detroit, averaging 13.2 rebounds and and 2.3 blocks per game. But with the teal and burgundy finishing out at 32-50, Wallace and company remained comfortably under the radar.

June 25, 2001 – Pistons Return to the Red, White, and Blue

Alright, so maybe we’re sneaking in a general Pistons tidbit that goes beyond Ben Wallace himself. But the 2000s blue collar contingent could have never properly gone to work without the return of their proper occupational attire. The reemergence of the red, white, and blue was one of the first steps in placing the team back on the map.

Can you really envision Ben Wallace hoisting a championship trophy over his head while decked out in knockoff turquoise unis with a giant horse head on the chest? Neither can we.

October 11, 2001 – The Intro to Mason’s Intro

B-B-B-B-B-Ben Wallace! Rest assured, there’s only one way Ben Wallace will be introduced to The Palace faithful when his number’s lifted to the rafters Saturday night. Mason took over as the Pistons’ P.A. man prior to the start of the 2001-02 season. His early sessions showcased a work in progress (the clip above was his very first go-around) but well over a decade later, Mason’s call, and the signature Big Ben chime, are Palace standards.

April 20, 2002 – Wallace Wins First Career Defensive Player of the Year Award

While most fans reflect upon 2004 as the year the Pistons firmly reestablished their place in history, the party actually started two years prior.

Despite being picked by most outlets to finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference in 2001-02, the Pistons rode the newfound leadership of Jerry Stackhouse while the fans and team alike bought into everything Ben Wallace was offering — from the blown out afro, to Rebound Row (free “R” tees in one Palace section for each rebound Wallace snagged), to his No Fly Zone armbands (eventually banned).

After being bypassed for both All-Defensive teams in 2000-01, the 6-foot-9 Wallace averaged a stunning 3.5 blocks per game in ’02, guiding the Pistons to their first division title in over a decade and yielding a then-record 96.7 percent of the votes for Defensive Player of the Year.

April 21, 2002 – Wallace Goes for 19 & 20 in First Career Playoff Game

This was different. Sure, the Pistons technically made four playoff appearances in the post-Bad Boys era in the mid-90s. But it’d been 12 years since the club had entered the postseason as division champions (shout out to the Milwaukee Bucks for a pretty impressive mid-season collapse).

So when the Pistons opened up the 2002 playoffs at home, in their red, white, and blue, with Ben Wallace showcasing his Defensive Player of the Year award in pre-game, the atmosphere was nothing short of frenetic. Wallace responded, turning in one of the most impressive performances of his NBA career, stuffing the box sheet with 20 points, 19 rebounds, three steals, and three blocks in an 85-63 Game 1 win over the Toronto Raptors.

Detroit’s eventual first round series win would be their first since ’91. Despite losing to the Boston Celtics in the 2nd round, the mark had been made. The Pistons were moving on up.

February 9, 2003 – Ben Wallace Makes All-Star Debut

What should have been one of the highlights of his young career, Ben Wallace’s NBA All-Star debut quickly turned somber when his mother unexpectedly passed away in the week leading up to the event. After opting to play in her honor, Wallace struggled to find an escape on the hardwood, playing only sparingly in the second half despite being the East’s starting center (though he still played seven more minutes than his Western Conference counterpart, Yao Ming).

Despite the melancholy nature of the experience, Wallace’s selection served as another example of the Pistons’ continued emergence on the NBA landscape. Detroit was 32-15 at the All-Star break en route to earning their second consecutive division title.

May 4, 2003 – Ben Wallace crushes T-Mac’s Hopes and Dreams

“It feels good to get into the second round.”

Historic display of over-confidence? Or gross misunderstanding of the NBA’s new first round format? Either way, when Tracy McGrady uttered those words after leading his Orlando Magic to a 3-1 first round series lead over the Pistons in 2003 (the first season the NBA moved round one from a best-of-five to a best-of-seven), the damage had been done.

The Pistons responded by winning Game 5 by 31 points then Game 6 by 15. So by the time the two teams returned to The Palace for Game 7, Detroit already had Orlando on the ropes. Ben Wallace simply delivered the knockout punch.

Leading by 12 at half, the Pistons opened up a 21-point lead in the third on the heels of an 11-2 run sparked, in part, by a Ben Wallace tip jam and fast break layup converted despite an open field tackle attempt from Orlando’s Pat Burke. Chauncey Billups may have scored 37, and Tayshaun Prince may have arrived on the scene with 20, but Wallace’s seven points, 12 rebounds, five assists, and five blocks left Pistons broadcaster George Blaha with no doubt.

“He is the Pistons’ MVP.”

May 20, 2004 – Redemption

After riding the momentum of their first round victory over the Orlando Magic in 2003, the Pistons experienced a rude awakening in that year’s Eastern Conference Finals. Jason Kidd and the New Jersey Nets dispatched Detroit in a quick and tidy fashion, sweeping the Pistons en route to their second consecutive Finals appearance.

Of course, things were different in 2004. Newest Piston Rasheed Wallace changed everything by the time these two teams met again, this time in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. Still, Rasheed’s presence alone didn’t alter his team’s peril. The Pistons had to stave off elimination with a Game 6 victory in New Jersey, setting up another do-or-die scenario in Auburn Hills.

It was a perfect time for Ben Wallace to turn in the offensive performance of his life.

Wallace scored 18 points, hitting eight of his first nine shots — four of which were jumpers — in leading the Pistons to a 90-69 series-closing triumph.

June 15, 2004 – Wallace & Co. Bring Home Title Cup

Chauncey Billups was named the most valuable player of the 2004 NBA Finals. With a 21 point per game average in a five game win over the Los Angeles Lakers, he earned it. But the award just as well could have gone to any number of Pistons, including Ben Wallace. Wallace averaged close to 14 rebounds and two steals in the series while opting to battle Shaquille O’Neal solo, allowing his teammates to lockdown elsewhere on the floor.

Wallace saved his best for last, knocking on the door of another 20-20 performance by scoring 18 points and grabbing 22 rebounds in the season-finale. His second half tip dunks over Byron Russell and O’Neal got the party started, officially completing the re-building process and earning Detroit’s third NBA championship in franchise history.

February 19, 2006 – Ascension to the Throne

Consider this an epilogue. The Pistons’ 2004 NBA title caught the world by surprise, considered by many as one of the greatest upsets in Finals history. That team, featuring one all-star (Wallace), was presumed to play a gritty form of basketball not conducive to taking down the big guns.

After winning in ’04 and nearly repeating in ’05 (a seven-game loss to the Spurs), the Pistons, by nearly all accounts, had officially “made it” by their Flip Saunders-led 42-9 start in 2006.

No longer considered upstarts, no longer catching the league by surprise, no longer considered a fluke, the Pistons’ success was effectively summed up on February 19, 2006, when they trotted out four All-Star representatives (Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton) and proceeded to shut down the Western Conference contingent with their signature defense and fundamental play.

Of course, 2006 would mark the end of Ben Wallace’s first tenure in Detroit and in a way, it was fitting. After coming aboard a dysfunctional, teal-shaded franchise at the turn of the century, Wallace provided the horsepower to push the Pistons to the top of the mountain and beyond, until they were revered as one of the greatest collective units in NBA history.

Welcome to the rafters, Big Ben.

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Posted by Ryan Van Dusen
Ryan is a Farmington native who enjoys all things basketball, particularly when it involves the Detroit Pistons. He spends much of his free time combing through NBA archives and curating footage of meaningless late-90's regular season performances for mass consumption.