Converse Firsts: Defending His Honor
Ben Wallace wins fourth Defensive Player of the Year award in five seasons
May 18 -- Defense.
It's the most unglamorous aspect of basketball. It's more than fitting, then, that it's Pistons center Ben Wallace who was recently named the league's best defender because his entrance into the NBA was anything but glamorous.
Wallace -- who earned his fourth NBA Defensive Player of the Year award in five years, the first player in league history to accomplish such a feat -- went undrafted out of tiny Division II school Virginia Union in 1996.
His only opportunity came from the Celtics, who offered Wallace a roster spot on their summer league team. But the cards were still stacked against him. As Wallace recalled in an interview with SlamOnline.com, then-Celtics coach M.L. Carr "said I was too small to play power forward or center in the NBA, so they had me playing the 2-3."
Not surprisingly, Wallace, who wasn't used to playing on the perimeter, didn't make the Celtics' regular season roster. Washington admired his gritty toughness, however, and he eventually landed a role with the Wizards, for whom he spent his first three seasons in the NBA. Wallace then played a year with the Orlando Magic.
After modest numbers during his first four seasons in the NBA, Wallace was traded to Detroit, a blue-collar city in which his game has blossomed. He's averaged at least 11 rebounds and two blocks in all six of his seasons with Pistons, while also helping the franchise win one NBA title and make two trips to The Finals. Not bad for a guy dubbed too small to play in the paint.
"The success weíve had over the last five, six years was started when he showed up here from Orlando about six years ago," Pistons team president Joe Dumars said at the 2005-06 Defensive Player of the Year announcement. "Itís been a hell of a ride. Weíre not done yet but make no mistake this guyís the cornerstone to everything that we do. Iím proud of him."
This season, Wallace averaged 11.3 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and a career-high 1.8 steals to anchor a defense which ranked third in the league for fewest points allowed per game (90.2). The Alabama native led all NBA centers in rebounding and steals, guiding the Pistons to a Central Division crown and the best record in franchise history (64-18).
Wallace was the only player in the league to rank in the top 10 in rebounds per game (fourth), blocks per game (ninth) and steals per game (10th). He became only the fifth player in league history to record 100 blocks and 100 steals in six consecutive seasons.
"All during the year," said Pistons coach Flip Saunders, "I hear a lot of people talking about different defensive players and Iíve said that thereís never been a player in our era, since weíve been around, that has had an impact on the game that Ben has had defensively. Heís somebody that can guard five guys on the floor.
"He can guard ones, twos, threes, fours and fives. Sometimes he does it on one play but his versatility and his competitiveness and the people of Detroit really identify with his work ethic and what he really gives to our team."
Wallace also garnered Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2001-02, '02-03 and '04-05, with Ron Artest interrupting his streak of DPOYs in 2004.
ďFor me it means a lot," Wallace said about his most recent award. "Everybody knows that Iím not on this floor because Iím a great scorer or because Iím a great free-throw shooter or I can spot up and knock down the three ball.
"Itís because of my ability to defend, get stops and rebound the basketball and make it tough for my opponents to score. To be able to win the Defensive Player of the Year award four out of five times, itís tough to put it in words but itís a great feeling. Itís what I do.
"Itís what I take most pride in and for me, right now, itís a great feeling."