Reunion between Wallace, Billups brings back memories of 'Goin’ to Work' Pistons

By Steve Kornacki
Special to The Detroit News

Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups went together like peas and carrots when they played for the Detroit Pistons.

The intimidating center and dominating point guard were at the core of the “Goin’ to Work” teams that captured the imaginations of their fans. They were NBA All-Defensive team members who helped make opposing teams dread games against Detroit.

Ben Wallace

They made All-Star games together, won the 2004 NBA championship together, and had their numbers retired by the Pistons together in ceremonies one month apart five years ago.

Then, Tuesday night at the Moda Center in Portland, they were severed when the ball was tipped off in what became a 110-92 Trail Blazers victory.

Billups, “Mr. Big Shot,” is Portland’s head coach.

Wallace, “Big Ben,” is Detroit’s basketball operations and team engagement advisor, and was traveling with the Pistons.

“Chauncey’s definitely the foe now,” Wallace said in a conversation with The Detroit News. “But I’m really excited to see him out there, man. And I’m glad to see him get this opportunity.

“You know, he’s always been a true leader, a floor general. He’s always been an extension of our coach, and always was able to get guys to rally. And if anybody can manage multiple personalities, it’s Chauncey.”

The Pistons teams they played on for four seasons, from 2002-03 through 2005-06, had an alpha dog in Rasheed Wallace and a quiet fire in Tayshaun Prince. They were a unique mix of personalities that Ben Wallace credits Billups with bringing together.

Ben Wallace is the first player from the group selected for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Class of 2021, joining their coach on that championship squad, Larry Brown, Class of 2002.

Ben Wallace is the only un-drafted player in the Hall, signing as a free agent with the Washington Bullets out of Virginia Union in 1996. He was traded along with Chucky Atkins by the Orlando Magic to the Pistons Aug. 3, 2000 for Grant Hill, HOF Class of 2018.

Billups’ No. 1 and Wallace’s No. 3 were retired at the Palace of Auburn Hills, and now hang from the rafters of Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. Smooth-shooting guard Richard “Rip” Hamilton had his No. 32 retired one year after them.

“Those were great moments for us — especially for that team,” said Wallace, recalling that many of them participated in the jersey raising ceremonies. “Me and Rip both had our numbers retired within a one-year span, too. It was just a testimony to how well we played together, and how much the organization appreciated what we were able to get done on the floor.

“It was great that night for the brotherhood to come back and show love, show appreciation for what (Billups) did. I think that’s a lost art — creating that family atmosphere. And through the years, through the changing teams, we even still got a real close brotherhood, man.

“So, that’s what I’m most proud of, and we all seemed to land on our feet back in the game in one aspect of the game or the other.”

Wallace assists Pistons general manager Troy Weaver and the basketball operations staff, head coach Dwane Casey and the coaching staff. He also serves as a mentor and development asset for Pistons players. He’s also engaged with select organizational business initiatives and community efforts.

What is Wallace’s favorite memory of Billups?

“I mean, it was just the way he ran the show,” said Wallace. “We had a coach like Larry Brown, who was able to communicate real well, draw up plays and put guys in the right situations.

“But Chauncey was one of those guys who could do all of those things without having anyone on the sidelines telling him to do it. Once you told him what to do, he just rolled through the season running the show himself. And I think that was one of the key reasons we had a lot of success.

Chauncey Billups

“He was able to run the show. He didn’t wait for plays to come from the sideline. He saw the game, managed the game, and knew when to get the ball to certain guys. It helped us a lot. It took a lot of pressure off our coaching staff.”

Billups, then a coach on the court, is now running his team from the sideline. He was asked prior to the game about leading Portland against Detroit.

"Every time I get an opportunity to play or coach or whatever it is, be in contact with the Pistons, it’s always special for me," Billups said. "Everybody knows not only my history, but my feelings on the organization and the city, and the fans there. So, I’m happy.

“You get to see so many people that you built relationships with over those years, that you don’t get to see every day any more. That’s always fun. That’s always special. Those are obviously the thoughts that I have every single time."

Pistons at Suns

Tipoff: 9 p.m., Thursday, Footprint Center, Phoenix

TV/radio: BSD/950

Outlook: The Pistons (4-17) will be taking on a Phoenix team that shares the NBA’s best record at 18-3 with the Golden State Warriors, whom they defeated, 104-96, Tuesday night. The Suns have won 17 consecutive games. They are powered by dynamic guards Devin Booker and Chris Paul. Booker averages 23.2 points while scorching the nets with shooting percentages of .458 for field goals, .403 for 3-pointers, and .857 for free throws. He also averages 4.9 rebounds and 4.5 assists. Paul leads the NBA with 10.1 assists per game and averages 14.5 points. Center Deandre Ayton (16 points, 11.5 rebounds) also is a force.