'An Amazing Story'

Big Ben's 10,000th rebound a fitting capstone to Pistons career

Numbers don’t define great players, but when players who have proven their greatness pass certain career milestones it gives us something more to remember them by and lets us all stop and think about what they’ve meant to our great sport. When Ben Wallace got his 10,000th rebound just last week, it was hard for me not to have all kinds of flashbacks.

I remember him before he ever played for the Pistons as a guy who had a huge impact per minute for both Washington and Orlando. I love the fact that not only did Joe Dumars have the vision to get him but that Ben had the perseverance and toughness and work ethic to make himself into one of the greatest defenders this game has ever seen.

It’s an amazing story. Although I can’t blame him for taking all that money a few years ago that Chicago offered him, I know this is where he belongs. It’s only fitting that he finish his career here.

I remember the day when news broke that Grant Hill was leaving to sign with Orlando as a free agent in the summer of 2000, just a month after Mr. Davidson named Joe D to run the team. You hate to see a guy like Grant leave. In so many ways, he was everything that was good about the game and I can’t help but pull for him these days in Phoenix. He’s finally healthy and proving to everybody what an incredibly productive pro he can be even at his ripe old age.

And I’ll never forget what Grant did for us. When you ring up all his numbers, you can make an argument that he was as good as anybody in the game when he was a Detroit Piston. It was a major loss and of course it was depressing. But to bring a guy in here who hung his hat on toughness and hard work, like I knew Ben Wallace would, I felt it was going to be a great plus.

I had heard that we had an interest in Ben and Chucky Atkins when the Pistons and Magic decided to work out the sign and trade and I really liked both of them. I can’t tell you that I thought Ben would end up being an all-time great, but I knew he would bring a great physical presence and have a big impact.

That’s what we needed at that point – somebody with every bit as much mental and physical toughness as the Bad Boys had. Our fans had been dying for that for years and I had, too. When you grow up on that – and I started with Bob Lanier, and nobody messed with The Dobber – and, next thing I knew, we built the Bad Boys, and nobody messed with any of them.

And suddenly we had a guy whose signature was his toughness and a don’t-back-down mentality. So I was excited he would come here. I didn’t expect him to be the centerpiece of the franchise, but I knew he would define our team in terms of toughness, both mental and physical.

When Ben first started to make his mark with the Pistons and fans began to get excited about this guy, I had so many people telling me that a guy who does it all on quote-unquote athleticism won’t be able to do that someday. But somewhere in my heart, I knew it was far more than just athleticism and far more than physical toughness.

You had to know if it was Ben Wallace, it was mental toughness that truly defined him. I don’t think you come from the background he came from and make it to the stratosphere like he has, to win four Defensive Player of the Year awards, without incredible mental toughness – and, of course, a lot of the skills that are still there.

You can be mentally tough and not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but Ben Wallace probably is the sharpest knife in the drawer. He understands this game backwards and forwards, inside and out. And I applaud him for that. As you can probably tell, he’s one of my all-time favorite guys.

Look at the active NBA players with 10,000 rebounds – Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. Two of them were No. 1 overall picks and the third, Garnett, would have been if he wasn’t the first player in a long time to come to the NBA straight out of high school at a time nobody believed a high school kid could make that transition without major problems.

And then you have Ben Wallace, who played four years in college and wasn’t drafted by anybody. I believe what that means is in life, don’t you ever take no for an answer. You must pursue your dream. Everybody should use Ben as a role model in that area. All those who said he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, didn’t really know him. As he said recently, he never really listened to those people because he knew in his heart what he could do and we certainly have seen him do it.