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From Undrafted To NBA Champion And Hall Of Famer: The Ben Wallace Story

From Undrafted To NBA Champion And Hall Of Famer: The Ben Wallace Story

The early and middle 2000s saw the rise of an unselfish team that didn't have a true superstar.

What this team had was veteran leadership, players who knew their roles, and incredible defense. We are talking about the memorable the Detroit Pistons.

The centerpiece of the 2000s Pistons' defensive excellence was center, Ben Wallace.

In fact, Wallace won four Defensive Player of the Year awards, all during the Pistons' best years in the 2000s.

Before Ben Wallace was dominating the defensive side of the ball in the NBA, he was living in poverty with his ten siblings.

He is the youngest of eight brothers and when it came to learning the game of basketball, if he wanted to shoot, he had to work to get the ball.

Since Wallace was the youngest, his brothers never wanted to pass him the ball. This led to Wallace developing that killer work effort he was well known for in the NBA.

“If I wanted to see the ball, I'd have to get a steal, a rebound, or save the ball from going out of bounds,” Wallace said.

As young children growing up poor in the small town of White Hall, Alabama, Wallace, and his siblings worked on local pecan farms to earn money.

The Wallace boys would use some of their profits to buy a basketball hoop for their house. This is where Ben Wallace fell in love with the game.

By the time Wallace attended high school, he achieved All-State honors in basketball, football, and baseball.

When Wallace was in tenth grade, he heard about a basketball camp ran by NBA player Charles Oakley.

The cost of the camp was $50, and to earn that money, Wallace offered three-dollar haircuts to anyone who wanted one.

At the camp, Wallace wasn't paying enough attention, well, not enough to the likening of Charles Oakley.

Oakley challenged Wallace to a game of one-on-one, and the game quickly became physical. Oakley even bloodied Wallace's lip during the game, but Wallace did not back down.

“He showed me what a real man can do, and he was not holding back,” Wallace said about the one-on-one game. “He was having his way and split my lip. Now, I’m a player too, and I don’t back down to nobody, so I didn’t mind getting physical with him. After that, he took a liking to me.”

Wallace's battling and not backing down definitely impressed Charles Oakley. After the camp, Oakley kept in touch with Wallace as his career developed.

Wallace first attended Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio, a two-year school.

In his second year, he averaged 17.0 rebounds and 6.9 blocks per game. This was the first sign of his defensive brilliance.

Charles Oakley then recommended Wallace to play at his alma mater, Virginia Union University.

Wallace enrolled at Virginia Union, which is a Division II school, and averaged 13.4 points and 10.0 rebounds per game.

Wallace's play helped lead Virginia Union to a 28–3 record and a Division II Final Four appearance.

In Wallace's senior year, he was named to the First-Team All CIAA and was selected as a First Team All-American (Div. II) by the NABC.

Even with these impressive accolades, Wallace went undrafted at the 1996 NBA Draft. Scouts considered Wallace to be too small for the center position.

Even though he wasn't drafted, Wallace tried out for the Washington Wizards. He almost didn't make the cut in training camp, but the Wizards signed him as a reserve forward.

In his rookie season, Wallace wouldn't see much playing time. He played only 5.8 minutes a game. His second year wouldn't be much better.

In his third year with the Wizards, Wallace played 26.8 minutes, and he averaged 6.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks per game.

In his fourth NBA season, Wallace was traded to the Orlando Magic, and he'd start in all 81 games that he played.

Wallace averaged 4.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game.

After the season, Wallace would be involved in a trade that would send him to the Detroit Pistons for Grant Hill.

Wallace's minutes would rise to 34.5 a game in his first year with the Pistons. He ended the season second in the league in rebounds per game with 13.2.

In his second year with the Pistons, "Big Ben" led the league in rebounds with 13.0. His rebounding and 3.5 blocks a game helped him win his first Defensive Player of the Year award.

The 2002–03 season would be Wallace's best, in terms of rebounding. He averaged 15.4 while earning his second straight defensive player of the year award.

In the playoffs that year, Wallace raised his rebounding to 16.3 per game, including four games of 20 or more rebounds.

Unfortunately, the Pistons would lose 4-0 to the defending Eastern Conference champions, the New Jersey Nets in the Conference Finals.


NBA Finals or Bust

The 2003–04 season brought two big changes to the Pistons. First, Larry Brown would take over the head coaching duties. His coaching style and experience were what the Pistons needed.

Later in the season, right before the trade deadline, the Pistons made a trade that added Rasheed Wallace to the mix. Now, with the two Wallace boys (no relation), the Pistons were ready to play for a title.

The Pistons stormed through the East in the playoffs, making it to the NBA Finals to play the superteam Los Angeles Lakers.

The entire NBA community thought the Lakers would win, and easily. But when the games started, it was clear one team was superior.

The Pistons outworked the Lakers. They played like a team and their defense, led by Ben Wallace, frustrated the Lakers.

The Detroit Pistons won the series 4-1 and obtained their first NBA title since 1990. Ben Wallace's performance in stopping Shaquille O'Neal cemented his place as one of the greatest defenders in NBA history.

Ben Wallace's NBA Finals Stats:

- 10.8 points

- 13.6 rebounds

- 1.8 steals

- 1.0 blocks


The Brawl

When the 2004–05 NBA season started, everyone circled one game on their calendars; November 19 against the Indiana Pacers.

The previous season, the Pistons defeated the team with the best record in the league, the Indiana Pacers, 4-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

There was a mutual dislike the two teams had for each other, and when this game started, everyone tuned in.

Pacers fans rejoiced while watching the game. The Pacers ran over the Pistons. Their offense and defense appeared to be superior to the Pistons.

After a made free throw, the Pacers held a 97 – 82 lead with 57.2 seconds remaining.

The Pistons brought the ball down and eventually found Ben Wallace under the basket. He went up for a one-handed dunk and was fouled hard from behind by Ron Artest.

Wallace didn't approve of Artest's foul and pushed him after the play. The two teams would scuffle for a minute or so, and things appeared to be calming down.

Artest himself was calming down by lying on the officials' table. Then, a cup of beer landed on his face…

What happened next changed the way the NBA handled the physicalness of the game. Artest stormed into the crowd to fight a fan, whom he believed threw the cup.

The entire crowd swarmed on Artest. They began attacking him, which led to Pacers' guard, Stephen Jackson, and other Pacers players storming into the crowd to fight off Artest's attackers.

After climbing out of the stands, Artest found himself squaring off against two Pistons' fans who ran onto the court.

The entire scene was a mess. Fans threw everything from popcorn to a chair at the Indiana Pacers players.

After the game, huge suspensions were handed out:

- Ron Artest: 73 regular-season games and 13 playoff games

- Stephen Jackson: 30 games

- Jermaine O’Neal: 25 games, reduced to 15 games

- Ben Wallace: 6 games

- Anthony Johnson: 5 games

- Chauncey Billups: 1 game

- Reggie Miller: 1 game

- Elden Campbell: 1 game

- Derrick Coleman: 1 game

The Indiana Pacers' title hopes were shattered after the brawl. The team would only win 44 games and barely inch into the playoffs.

The Pistons on the other hand didn't suffer that much. They finished second in the east with a 54-28 record.

Ben Wallace had another dominant defensive year, winning his third DPOY award.

The Pistons would make it back to the NBA Finals but would ultimately lose in a tough seven-game series against the San Antonio Spurs.

Wallace would play the next year in Detroit, winning his fourth Defensive Player of the Year award.

The Pistons won a franchise-record 64 regular-season games, but they'd fall to the Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade-led Miami Heat 4-2.

After the season, Wallace would sign with the Chicago Bulls. He'd bounce around from Chicago to Cleveland, then ultimately back to Detroit where he'd finish his career in 2012.

The Detroit Pistons rightfully retired Wallace's jersey on January 16, 2016.

Then the ultimate sign of respect came when Wallace was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in the class of 2021.

If Wallace's story tells us anything, it's that regardless of where you start in life, if you have that fight and determination not to quit, you can achieve greatness.

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