'Not welcome, too small': Pistons icon Ben Wallace reflects on legacy as he enters Hall

By Rod Beard

During his career with the Pistons, Ben Wallace was anything but ordinary.

At 6-foot-8, he played center, and with his strength and defensive versatility, he excelled enough to make it to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. During his induction on Saturday night, Wallace thanked his former coaches whom he joked held him back to make him prove himself.

Another of the moving pieces of Wallace’s five-minute speech was the end, when he talked about the legacy that he leaves after his storied career that included the 2004 NBA title. Larry Brown, who coached that team, was seated beside Wallace on the stage.

“I’ll tell you my legacy: I wasn’t welcome, I was too small, and I couldn’t play the game they wanted me to play the game,” Wallace said. “Sounds like an uneven game to me. Put me on a level playing field and I’ll show you.

“Panthers march.”

Wallace’s speech was untraditional, but he dropped some gems of wisdom, with a theme about Panthers marching — an ambiguous reference to his alma mater, Virginia Union University, a small Division II school — and a precursor of the Black Panther Party, which began in the same county where Wallace was born, in White Hall, Ala.

Several members of the 2004 championship team, including Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton, made the trip to support Wallace for his induction.

"We're just here to celebrate Ben and his unbelievable accomplishment,” Billups said on the broadcast before the induction ceremony. “With Ben going into the Hall of Fame, we feel like we're all going into the Hall of Fame."

Wallace, who turned 47 on Friday, reflected on his upbringing with 10 brothers and sisters and how his mother made him tougher: “My momma taught me, 'Stand tall, stick your chest out, keep your head up.' "

That’s what helped get Wallace to the Hall of Fame, in the 2021 class that included Chris Webber, Paul Pierce, Chris Bosh, Lauren Jackson and Yolanda Griffith. It’s also what helped Wallace gain a hard-nosed work ethic that drove him through his NBA career.

“The toughest part of life is the most underrated part of life that you would ever hear about,” Wallace said. “Winning looks good; legacies are built to last, but what type of legacy are you building?"

Wallace’s legacy is built on defense and tough play, which became his calling card after he arrived from the Orlando Magic in the deal that sent Grant Hill away. Wallace was the cornerstone of the top defense in a different era of the NBA. With more defensive-oriented players entering the Hall of Fame, like former Pistons standout Dennis Rodman and Dikembe Mutombo, there’s more of a focus than just the offensive statistics.

“It’s time for people to start recognizing the defensive end of the floor,” Wallace said before the induction. “Defensive guys put in a lot of work and they don’t get a lot of credit, but they keep showing up, keep shining, and they keep holding their teams together and providing wins.”

Several other Pistons, including general manager Troy Weaver, vice chairman Arn Tellem and current players Cade Cunningham, Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey, attended the ceremony.


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