Is Ben Wallace worthy of the Hall of the Fame?
Today, I’d like to briefly take a step away from photography and speak about something that has been on my mind for much of the night. Those of you who know me well, know of my undying adoration for my beloved Detroit Pistons. In my 24 years as a Pistons fans, I have experienced the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows. Right now, I’m experiencing a great deal of the latter. However, tonight, Ben Wallace set an NBA record that, prior to tonight, even I was unaware that he was approaching. He set the record for most games played by an undrafted NBA player, passing Avery Johnson.
Prior to the game, current Pistons coach Lawrence Frank was asked if Ben Wallace was worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. His response? “Without a doubt…”
This got me thinking. As a homer, Stan, and faithful Pistons fans, OF COURSE I want to say that Ben Wallace deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. As an NBA fan, though, and someone who prides himself in his ability to think soundly and logically, I owe it to myself to step outside of my fandom and truly analyze this question. Actually, there are two question to contend with here: 1. Does Ben Wallace deserve to be in the Hall of Fame? 2. Will Ben Wallace make into the Hall of Fame? Lawrence Frank was asked if Ben is worthy of consideration, and of course he is. But does he truly stand a fighting chance of making it in? Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
For starters, I think Ben’s chances of actually making it into the Hall are slim to none – not because he isn’t deserving, but simply based upon past voting. Dennis Rodman struggled to get in, and his resume FAAAAAAAAAAAR exceeds Ben’s. Far. Dennis was, to me, a no-brainer. The voters thought otherwise, and I think the main reason that The Worm got in was because of a late surge of support from both his fans and former teammates. Ben doesn’t have nearly the credentials that Dennis had, and if Dennis struggled, Ben has a long road ahead of him. That alone, I think, will be reason enough to keep Ben out. However, with this being Ben’s final season, I’d like to take some time to reflect on his time as a Piston, his effect on the team and the city (and the NBA as a whole), and why, despite popular opinion, I truly believe that Ben DOES merit consideration.
Let’s look at the state of the NBA today. The league quickly transitioned from being a league in which teams are built around a superstar, into one in which teams are built around SEVERAL superstars. It is no longer enough to draft a LeBron James, and take the time to build the right team around him. No. You have to win, and you have to win NOW. There is no time to draft a LeBron James, build a team around him, let that team mature, and THEN win a championship or championships. You have to win NOW. You have to go get LeBron, then Dwyane Wade, then Chris Bosh. You have to get Amare, then Carmelo Anthony, and Chauncey Billups. You have to dig in between the couch cushions, gather up some spare change, and then trade it along with a Kit Kat to Memphis for Pau Gasol so you can pair him with Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum. This is what the NBA has devolved into, and we have to deal with it.
Pau Gasol was traded to the Lakers in 2008, and LeBron James signed with the Miami Heat in 2010. So we can trace the start of this new era to that general time period. However, if it were not for Ben Wallace, this era could have started back in 2004. That has to count for something, right?
The Pistons were a perennial Eastern Conference favorite for a good 5-6 consecutive years. They won at least 50 games 7 years in a row. They reached 2 NBA Finals’, winning once. All of this was accomplished, not only without a superstar, but led by a player who was about as ineffective offensively as one can be.
During the Pistons rise to prominence, the NBA was already beginning to shift into its current state. In the 2004 NBA Finals, the Pistons faced a HEAVILY favored Lakers team that was not merely stacked with superstars. It was stacked with Hall of Fame players. The Lakers added aging, but still HIGHLY effective, veterans Karl Malone (the NBA’s 2nd all time leading scorer!) and Gary Payton to a team that already had one of the most formidable duos in NBA history, Kobe and Shaq. Led by defense, teamwork, defense, Ben Wallace, and more teamwork, the underdog Pistons TROUNCED the Lakers in what we here in Detroit like to call, “a 5-game sweep”.
Ben Wallace was a champion. He was the leader on a championship team, not because of his dunking ability or his long-range jump shot, but because of his DEFENSE. The game plan in the NBA at that time was not, “How do we stop the Detroit Pistons?”, it was “How do we score points against the Detroit Pistons?” Ben Wallace, an undrafted and offensively-inept player, helped to redefine the way the game was played – if only for a short period of time. While he did not completely stop the NBA from turning into what it is today, he mostly certainly helped delay it. That’s got to count for something, right?
Prior to Ben’s arrival, the Pistons had one of the most exciting players in NBA history in Grant Hill. Grant was on the cusp of turning into one of the league’s all-time great players, and we traded him… for Chucky Atkins and who? Ben Wallace? Who the hell is that? Grant went on to salvage a respectable NBA career after a multitude of ankle surgeries, but after he went to Orlando, he was never the same. Ben went on to win a title, 4 defensive player of the year awards, prove that defense truly does win championships, re-shape the game, and most importantly, bring pride, hard work, and teamwork back to the city of Detroit. That’s got to count for … well, you get the point.
In the grand scheme of things, the Ben Wallace-led Pistons era will probably be a small blip on the NBA’s radar. “Remember that brief time period in the 2000’s when defense and teamwork counted for something in the NBA?” The fact that he merely delayed the shift in style in the NBA, rather than stopping it, will probably keep him out of the Hall of Fame. Couple that with that the fact that the only stats he has on his side are defensive ones, and his chances are slim. However, Ben Wallace will go down as one of my most cherished and beloved Pistons of all time. He brought me a championship, and he did it with hard work and determination, rather than 360-degree dunks. There was a time when kids watched the NBA and were taught that rebounding, defense, hustle, hard work, and fundamentals were as important, if not more important, than how high you can jump. We have Ben Wallace to thank for that, and as a Pistons fan, I’ll forever be in his debt for the great times. He may not make it into the Hall, but his jersey certainly deserves to hang in the rafters at the Palace for all that he’s done for this franchise and this city. Congrats on your 1,055th game, Ben. We love you.