The Big Ben-Beef Stew analogy takes on new resonance with Wallace’s Hall of Fame nod

Ben Wallace and Isiaiah Stewart
Ben Wallace is a role model for Isaiah Stewart as part of the young core in the restoration of the Pistons
Allen Einstein/Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Dwane Casey’s first reaction to Ben Wallace’s Hall of Fame induction? Thrilled for Wallace, whom he’s known and admired from his playing days long before Casey had a vested interest in seeing Pistons alumni recognized for their accomplishments. Casey’s second reaction to the Wallace news? Thrilled for how it will amplify the message he imparts to the many young players he now coaches with the Pistons about the virtues of defense, selflessness and teamwork.

And especially how that message will resonate with a player Casey himself has said could one day be a worthy successor to the legacy of Ben Wallace: Isaiah Stewart.

“Just so excited for Ben to finally get in,” Casey said. “Hopefully, we can get him more involved with our team and working with Isaiah because that’s who Isaiah can be like – his work ethic, the size, kind of undersized centers, but play just as hard and team-first like Ben.”

The Big Ben-Beef Stew analogy is inevitable even if their biographies aren’t particularly similar. Stewart came in the NBA’s front door as a first-round draft pick two spots removed from the lottery. Wallace wrangled his way into a junior college invitation that earned him a scholarship at Division II Virginia Union, then went undrafted and got a Summer League invitation with the Boston Celtics to try his hand as a shooting guard.

Stewart, who finished his rookie season at 19, took 12 more 3-point shots in a 72-game season than Wallace launched in his 16-year NBA career. Wallace was 25 and heading to his third NBA home at the time he was traded to Detroit – a remarkable return, as it turned out, for the seeming doomsday scenario of losing Grant Hill in free agency – and 26 by the time he put a Pistons uniform on for the first time.

But what they foremost have in common is obvious and irresistible for Pistons fans – the sheer effort they pour into every possession, their belief that every rebound is theirs to take, their contempt for failure, their relish for dirty work and their delight in the success of teammates. In all of those things, important to Detroit and Pistons fans in a way they aren’t most places, they might as well be identical twins 27 years removed.

Stewart is admirably grounded and knows who he is in a way most 19-year-olds do not, so Wallace getting to the Hall of Fame isn’t going to alter the way he approaches the game or his role at the heart of the Pistons restoration on general manager Troy Weaver’s watch.

But the reinforcement that the ultimate acknowledgment of Wallace’s career was given by his Hall induction certainly should only serve to have Stewart doubling down on the tenets of his NBA resume.

It wasn’t just the rebounds and blocked shots and intimidation factor – the billowing Afro, the bulging biceps, the Big Ben gong to accompany Mason’s player introduction of Buh-Buh-Buh Ben Walllace! – that made the player his teammates called simply “Body” a Hall of Famer.

It was the mastery of dribble handoffs, the blunt force and honed precision of his screens, the understanding of passing angles to set up teammates, the personal affront he took when his man scored, the unfailing hustle, the unyielding example of relentless effort he set for teammates. Mostly, it was his disdain for losing and his willingness to sacrifice all to avoid it that elevated him from basketball’s hinterlands to the NBA to champion to – now – immortality.

No matter how pure a young player’s heart – and Stewart’s is about as pure as it gets – to have a road map for how to transform your greatest desires into a goal within your grasp is always invaluable. Ben Wallace making the Hall of Fame is another brick in the foundation Troy Weaver and Dwane Casey are laying to restore the Pistons to their place among the NBA elites. It will serve Casey well in his daily messaging to all of the many young players finding their way in Pistons uniforms today. It will serve him especially well in the molding of Isaiah Stewart into the block of granite Ben Wallace represents in Pistons lore.


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