Detroit — The list of nominees for induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for 2017 is long and illustrious.
It includes Mark Aguirre, Mo Cheeks, Terry Cummings, Tim Hardaway, Kevin Johnson, Marques Johnson, Bobby Jones, Tracy McGrady, Sidney Moncrief, Mark Price, Jack Sikma, Steve Smith, Chris Webber and Paul Westphal.
It would be easy for a big-haired, undersized, undrafted, low-scoring former Pistons center to get overlooked and overshadowed. Story of his life. Fortunately, his immense body of work over a remarkable 16-year career should overcome whatever he may lack in terms of name recognition and national acclaim.
Ben Wallace, nominated for the first time, deserves enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.
Listen to these endorsements from a pair of NBA championship winning coaches, both of whom coached and coached against Wallace.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle: “Four-time all-star. Five-time all-NBA. Four-time defensive player of the year. Five-time (first team) NBA all-defensive team. Two-time NBA rebounding leader. Number retired in the Palace rafters. Face of the franchise as the team ascended to the NBA title in 2004.
“In the process, multiple teams gave up on him at stops along the way. Perseverance, leadership and a defiant symbol of toughness and grit in one of the hardest working cities in the world. Add all this up and you have a guy who will definitely get strong consideration for the Hall of Fame.”
Former Pistons coach and Hall of Famer Larry Brown: “Think about the people he had to play against — (naming 7-footers Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Dikembe Mutombo, Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing) – and the impact he had on a team. It was just remarkable. Every single night he’s playing against a quality big person in a league that wasn’t watered down by a lot of young people.
“And he gave every team he ever played on a chance to win.”
Wallace’s statistical achievements alone are Hall-worthy.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, there are four players in NBA history who have amassed 10,000 or more rebounds, 1,300 or more steals and 2,000 or more blocks — Kevin Garnett, Olajuwon, Robinson and Wallace.
Of the 371 current Hall of Fame inductees (including players and coaches), Wallace ranks 39th in rebounds per game and 11th in blocks. According to Basketball Reference, he has the fifth-highest defensive rating in history (95.8).
Only five players have had seven or more consecutive seasons with 100 steals and 100 blocks: Olajuwon, Sam Lacey, Julius Erving, Robinson and Wallace.
In a six-year span, from 2000-2001 through 2005-2006, there wasn’t a better frontcourt rebounder and defender than Wallace. He won his four defensive player of the year awards in that span.
Wallace averaged 12.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 2.8 blocks during that time. For comparison, Kevin Garnett averaged 12.8 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.6 blocks, and Tim Duncan averaged 12.1 / 0.8 / 2.5.
As Brown pointed out, Wallace was competing against and out-producing much bigger men nearly every night. Listed at 6-9, Wallace, in reality, barely measured 6-7. The 6-9 measurement must have been taken with his full-blown, trademark ’fro.
“Ben had amazing anticipation and quickness,” Carlisle said. “He impacted the game on the ground and in the air unlike any defensive player I’ve ever seen. He was an absolute nightmare to game plan against.”
If you are one to measure a player’s Hall-worthiness on post-season performance, Wallace was an absolute beast in the 2004 and 2005 playoffs — helping the Pistons win the championship in 2004 and to the Game 7 loss to San Antonio in the 2005 Finals. In 48 post-season games in those two years, Wallace produced 190 offensive rebounds, 420 defensive rebounds, 82 steals and 115 blocks.
He also averaged 10 points a game.
“Offensively, we used Ben because so many people didn’t guard him,” Brown said.
“We had him handle the ball and he made it so much easier for Chauncey (Billups) and Rip (Hamilton) and Tayshaun (Prince). He passed the ball to those guys. He’s a very capable ball-handler and passer. I don’t think people realize that as much.”
The player Wallace was most-often compared to is Dennis Rodman, who is in the Hall of Fame. Interesting that Wallace averaged more post-season rebounds (11.2 to 9.9), steals (1.5 to 0.6) and blocks (1.9 to 0.6) than Rodman.
In his career, Wallace produced more than twice as many steals (1,369-611) and four times more blocks (2,137-531) than Rodman.
‘Most remarkable career’
To Brown, though, measuring Wallace in numbers is an insufficient gauge of his impact.
“I think we are so caught up in analytics, sometimes guys don’t get judged fairly,” he said. “It’s all about giving yourself a chance to win and making your teammates better. And he does all those things.”
Interesting, in the course of a 15-minute phone conversation, Brown talked about Wallace in the present tense, as if the two were still together in Detroit devising ways to win another title.
“The fact that Ben is so mobile and such a great rebounder and such a great shot blocker and so competitive, he plays every possession like it’s his last one,” Brown said. “You can’t ever put a value on that. I can’t imagine anybody in the NBA today not finding a place for a player like him.
“Especially with the way pick-and-roll is and the fact of how well he can run the floor. The game is so up and down now and he will outrun any big guy.”
Both Brown and Carlisle used Wallace in multiple ways defensively.
He could defend against a guard or small forward on the perimeter. He was a pick-and-roll wreaker with his quickness, length and strength. He was stout in the low post and a menace on the weak side, away from the ball.
“In Detroit, it was really vital to have a big guy mobile enough to get on the pick-and-roll and switch out on pick-and-roll — guarding the perimeter as well as in the post,” Brown said. “When you have Ben and Rasheed (Wallace), you give yourself a chance to do something pretty special.”
Which they did, holding opponents under 70 points in a record five straight games in 2004.
“I get this all the time — people telling me Detroit won without a true superstar,” Brown said. “I kind of laugh at that. We had multiple superstars. It’s just they didn’t tout it like, you know, The Big Three or anything like that. They said you need three stars to win, well, we had more than three stars. That whole starting team were stars.
“It’s just they sacrificed for one another.”
NBA pundits have said the 2004 Pistons will likely go down as the only team in modern history to win a championship without a Hall of Fame player. The numbers and testimony presented here, hopefully, will alter that destiny.
“Take a step back and look at the fact that Ben Wallace was undrafted and you have what may be the most remarkable career in sports history,” Carlisle said.
Ben Wallace’s name deserves to be called when the finalists for induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame are announced on Feb. 18.
How Ben stacks up
In a six-year span, from 2000-2001 through 2005-2006, there wasn’t a better frontcourt rebounder and defender than Ben Wallace. He won his four defensive player of the year awards in that span. Here’s how he stacked up per game against the top big men in the league during that time:
Ben Wallace -- 12.9 rebounds / 1.6 steals / 2.8 blocks
Kevin Garnett -- 12.8 / 1.4 / 1.6
Tim Duncan -- 12.1 / 0.8 / 2.5
Shaquille O’Neal -- 11.0 / 0.5 / 2.3
Chris Webber -- 10.1 / 1.5 / 1.2
Dikembe Mutombo -- 8.2 / 0.3 / 1.8
NBA seasons: 16 (with Pistons 2000-06 and 2009-12).
Career totals: 6,254 points, 10,482 rebounds, 2,137 blocks, 1,437 assists and 1369 steals in 1,088 games.
Totals with Pistons: 4,337 points, 7,264 rebounds, 1,486 blocks, 997 assists, 931 steals in 655 games.
Notable: Pistons career leader in blocks, second in steals and defensive rebounds, third in total rebounds and offensive rebounds, eighth in minutes played and ninth in games.