Ben Wallace has played professional basketball for quite a long time. In fact, he's played more games than any other undrafted free agent in his 15-year career and is currently the eighth oldest player (37 years, 159 days) in the NBA.
When you stick around that long, there's a reason for it: you're usually pretty good. Wallace definitely falls into that category. Wallace is a Detroit Pistons legend, to put it simply. A one-time NBA champion in 2004, Wallace became the ninth player in NBA history to amass 10,000 rebounds and 2,000 blocks and became the third Piston to record 7,000 boards in franchise history. Wallace is a four-time All-Star and a four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
Certainly, his career has amounted to greatness, and he didn't see it coming.
"Yeah, and some," Wallace said when asked if his career has amounted to what he expected. "It's a lot more than what I expected."
Wallace was not drafted and broke into the league in 1996, when he signed with the Washington Bullets (now the Wizards) as a free agent. He stuck around for three years, but didn't really blossom until his final season in Washington when he averaged 6.0 points and 8.3 rebounds in 46 games. In those three season, he never played more than 67 games.
Not content with Wallace's contributions, the center was traded by the Wizards along with Terry Davis, Tim Legler and Jeff McInnis to the Orlando Magic in exchange for Isaac Austin. Wallace's time in Orlando was short lived, and he didn't make much of an impact, averaging 4.8 points and 8.2 rebounds in 81 games.
Wallace was traded again in the summer of 2000, as he was shipped to the Pistons along with Chucky Atkins for Grant Hill. It was there that Wallace would blossom into one of the league's best forwards/centers and where he would build his legacy. Big Ben, as he was affectionately nicknamed in reference to the iconic tower in London, gelled right away in Detroit, averaging career highs in points (6.4), rebounds (13.2) and blocks (2.3) in his first season in 2000-01. The next year, he averaged 7.6 points and 13 rebounds along with a career-high 3.5 blocks per game.
Six years in Detroit proved to be the best of Wallace's career. He never established himself as an offensive threat, something he hasn't done to this day, as he never averaged more than 9.7 point in his first go around in Auburn Hills. Wallace left the city in which he became famous in the 2006-07 campaign, when he signed with the Chicago Bulls.
Wallace's career never would be the same, and his '06-'07 season was the closest he would come to a very productive campaign (he averaged 6.4 points and 10.7 rebounds) to date. He was traded once again in February of 2008 to the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he would play until June of 2009, when he was again dealt to the Phoenix Suns.
But that wouldn't be the end of the relocation for Wallace, who was waived by the Suns on July 13 of '09 before even playing a game. On August 12, 2009, Wallace returned home, re-signing with his Pistons, where he has played since.
Of course, having been around as long as Wallace has, you begin to learn the ins and outs of the league, and he has also seen the landscape of the league change substantially.
"The league has totally changed over the last 16 years," Wallace said. "The rules have changed on both ends of the floor, you know, the game has changed. It's a lot of changes that have been made over the course of my career."
Wallace has had the fortune of playing with some great players in his career, sharing the same locker room with greats such as LeBron James, but he maintains that his best experience was with the 2004 championship team in Detroit.
"There's a lot of guys, man, that are great individual players, but the best team I played on was that 2004 championship team," he said. "Best team I ever played on at any level."
Wallace has played many a game against the Boston Celtics, a team that he respects.
"Boston is one of those teams, regardless of who they put on the floor, you're always going to expect a competitive game, [they] go out and compete," said Wallace, who was in town to face Boston on Wednesday. "I think it's just the aura around the organization, you put on a Celtic uniform and there's a couple musts that have to happen.
"They've always been competitive, even when they weren't as good. They come out there and they fight, and they work their way back to the top. They win a championship and stay in the running to win a championship for the last couple of years. They're one of those teams that, regardless of who's on the floor, you've got to be prepared for a fight."
This year hasn't been much better for Wallace from a production standpoint. He's averaging 1.3 points and 3.4 rebounds in 14.6 minutes per game through 29 games. Wallace's impact has still been felt, though, as he has embraced his role as a mentor.
"[I'm] just trying to help the young guys, you know, just trying to help them out in any way I can," he said. "I just try to share to them some of my experience, to try to help them come along and be more productive players. I figure the more we can help those guys around, the quicker we can help this team turn around."
Wallace's work paid of Wednesday, in some regard. He only played 15 minutes, but he owned the glass with a game-high 11 boards and helped lead his Pistons to a 98-88 win over the Celtics, which was a big boost for Detroit's growth.
"I really thought it was a total team win," said Pistons head coach Lawrence Frank. "There were so many things that went on throughout the game, we got great production from everybody who played in the game."
Productivity is measured by wins, losses and statistics, but there isn't a statistical category for off the court impact. If there were, it's quite possible that Wallace might lead the league.
"He's unbelievable, he's an unbelievable teammate. You want to play with him," said Celtics reserve Sasha Pavlovic, who played with Wallace in Cleveland. "He helps you in every way possible -- on the court, off the court. He's a great guy off the court. I loved playing with him."
Pavlovic maintained regular interaction with Wallace in Cleveland, and he praised Wallace's leadership in the locker room. Even with a player like James looming large on the Cavs, an aging Wallace still made a big impact on the team.
"He's one of the best defensive players ever to play in the league, and that's already enough to bring into the locker room," said Pavlovic. "Off the court, and talking to young guys and helping them understand the game -- he was amazing."
Even now, Pavlovic believes that Wallace is a force to be reckoned with out on the court.
"He can still bring the same things," he said. "As long as he's playing, that means he's ready to play. I know he's working harder than anybody, and that means he's ready to play. I don't think his game is done at all. He probably feels the same."
Wallace has announced his intentions to hang it up after the season, but in the meantime, he remains committed to helping the Pistons grow and maybe even make some noise in the second half of the season.
In the end, it's the same old stuff from Big Ben, the towering big who has never stopped chiming.
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