One of the top defensive players the NBA has ever seen, Ben Wallace first came to the Motor City as part of the deal that sent Grant Hill to the Orlando Magic. While the deal was thought to be relatively one-sided at the time, Wallace immediately made his mark on Detroit.
He’d go on to win four NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards (tied with the legendary Dikembe Mutombo) as well as being a key part in the 2004 championship squad that stunned the heavily favored Los Angeles Lakers in five games, bringing Detroit their first Larry O’Brien Trophy since the Bad Boys won back to back titles in 1989 and 1990.
His jersey #3 was retired by Detroit in 2016.
The Detroit Free Press caught up with him recently to get this thoughts on a range of subjects, including the 2004 championship run.
“Going into the Finals against Kobe and Shaq, no one was giving us a chance and wrote us off. It was kind of funny, it was like, ‘For real?’ I had some great teammates and brothers in Rasheed (Wallace), Chauncey (Billups), Rip (Hamilton), Lindsey (Hunter) and all the other guys. I think the way I played defense, it rubbed off on them. We knew that the only way they could beat us was if we gave them open looks, warmup shots. We knew Shaq and Kobe were going to be the focal points but they didn’t see focal points with us because we were a bonafide team. We just ran up and down the floor and wore them down, man. We had the utmost confidence in each other and we had a great bench that played just as focused and just as hard. That was always our key. We came at you in waves. I’ll take our team any day, any time.”
Of course, one of the darker moments in NBA history was the infamous “Malice at the Palace”, the brawl between the Pistons and rival Indiana Pacers that culminated in Ron Artest charging into the stands in an all-out melee.
“The Pacers were beating us pretty good and it was near the end of the game when Artest drove to the basket for a layup and I blocked the shot. I overheard him tell the official that he missed the call and said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll get him back.’ I grew up that when someone said they’re going to get you, then it’s on, you have to be prepared to handle your business. I then went for a layup and he fouled me hard and was trying to pay me back. I reacted and pushed him and the arena was pretty charged. When that fan threw a drink on Ron, it was very disrespectful, and then things really got of hand when he went into the stands after that guy. Things happen so fast and you just react. You never want to see things spill into the stands and have your fans get involved. We all took our punishment and fortunately, no one got seriously hurt. But I always admired the way Ron Artest played the game and the energy he played with on the defensive end. There was no real beef between us, it was just something that happened.”
Prior to his eventual return to Detroit, Wallace signed a free-agent deal with the rival Chicago Bulls in 2006. What was it that led to his departure? According to Wallace, it sounds like the coaching style differences between Larry Brown and Flip Saunders played a key role.
“When Flip came in, I knew right away the difference in his coaching style compared to Larry Brown’s. Flip was more offensive minded and Larry was more defensive minded, which was perfect for my game. I no longer had a voice in the huddle and felt it was canceled out a lot when it came to decisions. I felt like I had become a distraction to the team because I wasn’t going to play second fiddle when I had busted myself and had been successful. I felt I had to leave or otherwise stay and watch the team fall apart. I thought it would be easier to leave but it was a difficult decision. I still think about it today and whether it was the right decision, but it was the decision I had to make at the time. Chicago gave me a great contract ($60 million) but it was hard to leave when your heart is still in Detroit. But I knew that when I left that one day, I would return and play for those great fans again.”
The rest of Wallace’s interview can be read here.
– – Quotes via Bill Dow of The Detroit Free Press Link – –