You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone

Friday, March 13, 2009

There's nobody who works at The Palace who doesn’t understand what Rasheed Wallace means to the Pistons.
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
There’s nobody who works at The Palace, from Joe Dumars to the young men who clean up the locker room after games, who doesn’t understand what Rasheed Wallace means to the Pistons. But sometimes it takes the absence of somebody to understand his true worth. Rasheed didn’t play against the Knicks the other night and the Pistons lost in overtime despite unbelievable performances from a lot of players, Antonio McDyess especially. And Rasheed won’t be in uniform tonight against Toronto, either, and that will make it a tough win for the Pistons even though the Raptors have been struggling.

When you don’t have Rasheed Wallace on the floor for major minutes during a game, no matter how hard you try to make up for it, your defense is going to suffer. He’s a great low-post defender, very smart and with quick hands and he knows exactly what to do with each of his low-post matchups against some of the great players in the game. The most important thing about defense overall is playing good team defense and you can’t play good team defense if you don’t communicate. When you have a guy on the back line defensively who is calling out defensive adjustments and he has an ultra-high basketball IQ, your defense will be more than good enough to win on most nights.

When you’re talking about Rasheed the basketball player and his place in recent NBA history – and I don’t know if I’m recent anymore, because I go back 33 years – you’ll see one of the most-talented half-dozen power forwards during my time as an NBA broadcaster.

Rasheed wouldn’t even care about this, by the way, which is maybe the best thing about him. He’s a guy you really have to watch for a while to fully appreciate. Despite all his energy on the court and how much he inspires the crowd and his teammates, he isn’t intentionally flamboyant. And he doesn’t really care what his individual stats are. In that way, he’s a great, great teammate – all he really wants to do is win.

But if you look at his skill set, it would be hard to find somebody who can do everything Rasheed can do, who thinks the game like Rasheed, and add to that his unselfishness. He’s really a pleasure to watch and a great guy to be around. He’s not just a great teammate, he’s a great part of the Pistons family.

Rasheed Wallace is truly one of the most misunderstood athletes of our time, without question. Fans see his emotional reactions to bad calls or even questionable calls and they see a guy who they think maybe isn’t as respectful of the officials as he should be. I see a guy who is very respectful of the good officials and is constantly complimenting referees when they make good calls. He’s just smart enough to know what a bad call is and he’s not going to let you get away with it. Sometimes, as hard as he tries not to, he’ll say something to an official and an official reacts to him and he’ll probably react back to the official and that’s where he gets in trouble.

But talk to his teammates and coaches and you’ll find out what kind of guy he is. Joe Dumars did that and brought him here without reservation because he knew that anybody who coached him or played with him respected his game and loved having him on their team.

It’s the times when fans don’t see Rasheed that really shows his true character. He’s a guy who would rather do things under the radar, whether it’s finding coats for people when it’s cold out or helping schoolkids fund a project. He really cares about the community and wants to help the underdog.

Not only that, but he has been a great mentor for an awful lot of young players over the years. Jermaine O’Neal was probably destined to be at least a good player, but I’ll guarantee not as good as he turned out to be after all those years playing behind Rasheed in Portland and learning from one of the best in the game.

Sometimes people don’t realize how much time it takes to stay after practice or to just catch a conversation with a guy again and again about areas where he needs work. Rasheed is absolutely committed to making young players better. And I think his feel for the game rubs off on teammates, and as I said earlier, what he does defensively, both individual and making sure the team defense is right, is immeasurable.

If you ask people who work at The Palace – the crew on Roundball Two or anybody in that group of unsung heroes that are important parts of the Pistons family – who the most courteous and friendly players are, Rasheed would be at the top of everybody’s list. And that’s something you can’t measure. But if you add that to the mix, he becomes a very valuable player. And I’m certainly glad he’s in Pistons blue.