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Pistons’ Ben Wallace proof that hard work pays off

April 26, 2012

NBA

Hard work paid off for Ben Wallace and the Pistons in 2004. Photo Credit: All Posters

In a few years, Detroit Pistons’ fans will almost certainly see Ben Wallace’s “big red three” rising to the rafters of the Palace, but as of now, fans only have a few opportunities left to see the man who was the cornerstone of the Pistons’ last championship in 2004.

And while Wallace might not be as talented as he was during his first stint in Detroit, his work ethic and defensive abilities still leave his teammates and Pistons’ coach Lawrence Frank marveling.

“The guy’s been tremendous,” Frank said about Wallace. “And, we talked about it the other day, it’d be one thing for you guys to see during the games, but every day in practice he’s the same way and it’s a true testament of professionalism, of a competitor and someone who can still do it at a high level.”

The 37 year-old Wallace announced in February that this condensed NBA season will be his last, and, although he recently joked that he might leave the possibility of his return to a fan vote, it’s probably safe to say that this decision is definitive. He has often talked this year about going home to his family and even his post-basketball plans of going to law school to become a defense attorney.

Wallace’s leadership and energy have been invaluable to a young Pistons team and his on-court play has proven that his impending retirement surely isn’t motivated by a lack of ability. Following his vintage performance in a recent 99-94 win over the Washington Wizards, teammates were singing his praises and hoping to see him return.

“Yeah, I’ve been trying to talk him out of it, man,” said Pistons’ point guard Will Bynum when asked about the team trying to convince Wallace to continue playing. “Two or three more years, man. Might as well, he’s looking 30 right now.”

In that particular game, Wallace finished with five points, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block, making some of the same defensive plays that would set the Palace crowd on fire in his prime.

During one fourth quarter possession, Wallace blocked Wizards’ point guard John Wall’s layup attempt then drew a charge on Wall just seconds later. On the Wizards’ next trip down the court, Wallace stole a Shelvin Mack pass that led to a highlight reel fast break for the Pistons.

“I thought Ben Wallace was phenomenal; was great,” Frank said about his performance after the game. “And, you know, just was instrumental in helping us win the game.”

Most Detroit sports fans know Wallace’s story at this point — he played Division II college basketball at Virginia Union University and entered the league as an undrafted and undersized center in 1996. Work ethic and tenacity earned him playing time with the Washington Bullets and Orlando Magic, but it was after his trade to the Pistons in 2000 that he became one of the most dominant defensive players in league history. His teammates today see that same work ethic, as Wallace leads by example both in practices and games.

“Every single day, Ben is working nonstop,” Bynum said. “I mean, every day he’s one of the first people in the gym, one of the last people to leave.”

Frank hopes the example Wallace sets among his teammates will have a lasting impact.

“I hope all our guys soak up these lessons because they’re invaluable,” Frank said. “It’s not about talking, it’s about doing, and he’s the ultimate doer. He is a top shelf competitor.”

Wallace has worked his way into NBA and Pistons’ franchise record books. On a Feb. 15 matchup with the San Antonio Spurs, he broke Avery Johnson’s record for most games played by an undrafted player at 1,055. Wallace’s four Defensive Player of the Year awards tie him with Dikembe Mutombo at the top of the list for that honor. He is also the Pistons’ all-time leader in blocks, third in rebounds and second in steals.

“He’s a living legend,” said Pistons’ forward Jonas Jerebko. “He just keeps going. It’s great to be a part of this; I’m just happy to have him on my team.”

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