Professional basketball player
Born September 10, 1974, in White Hall, AL; son of Sadie Wallace; married Chanda, 2001. Education: Attended Cuyahoga Community College; attended Virginia Union University. Religion: Baptist.
Office —c/o Detroit Pistons, Palace of Auburn Hills, 2 Championship Dr., Auburn Hills, MI 48326.
Signed as a free agent with Washington Bullets (later renamed Wizards), 1996; played for Orlando Magic, 1999–2000; played for Detroit Pistons, 2000—.
Division II All–American first–team honors; Defensive Player of the year, Basketball Digest, 2001–02; Defensive Player of the year, 2002–03; NBA All–Star team, 2003.
An undersized basketball center listed at six feet, nine inches tall, Ben Wallace has become a National Basketball Association (NBA) star the hard way—he earned it. Wallace signed as a free agent out of college with the Washington Wizards and has also played for the Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons. Relying on hustle and a tough work ethic, Wallace has become a defensive standout in the league. Sports Illustrated 's L. Jon Wertheim called Wallace a "sequoia who plays both ends of the floor
Wallace was born in the small town of White Hall, Alabama, the youngest of eight brothers and the tenth of eleven children. Wallace's penchant for playing hard and going after all loose balls on the basketball court started when he played pick–up games with his brothers. "As the little brother, I knew they weren't going to pass to me," Wallace told Wertheim in Sports Illustrated. "If I wanted to see the ball, I'd have to get a steal, a rebound, or save the ball from going out of bounds."
Wallace and his brothers worked on local farms to earn money. In the summer before his junior year in high school, Wallace wanted to attend a basketball camp held by Charles Oakley. So, to make the $50 fee for the camp, Wallace cut peoples' hair for $3 each.
After high school, Wallace entered Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio where he was a two–year starter. In the junior–college venue, Wallace quickly proved himself to be a man among boys, averaging 24 points per game (ppg), 17 rebounds per game (rpg), and seven block shots per game (bpg) in his second year. Wallace then went on to Virginia Union University, where he earned Division II All–American first–team honors as he led the team to the Final Four championship games in Division II college basketball.
Not a prolific scorer and suspected of being shorter than his listed height, Wallace was not drafted out of college by the NBA. The Washington Wizards, however, signed him as a free agent. Although he was nearly cut in training camp, Wallace made the team as a reserve forward, playing in only 34 games his first year. By the next year, however, Wallace began to assert himself and gained more playing time. He also became a fan favorite known especially for his defensive hustle in rebounding and blocking shots. During his three seasons at Washington, Wallace averaged 3.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, and 1.2 bpg.
Despite his hustle and growing maturation as an NBA player, he was traded by Washington to the Orlando Magic in August of 1999. He played in 81 games for the Magic in the 1999–2000 season and averaged 8.2 rpg, which was twentieth in the league that year. The next year, however, Wallace was traded along with Chucky Atkins to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for their star player Grant Hill. During his first season with the Pistons, Wallace led the NBA with 13.2 rebounds a game and as the end of the 2002–2003 season approached, Wallace's name was being mentioned for the league's Most Valuable Player award. He became the first Piston player in franchise history to lead the club in rebounds, steals, and blocks.
Wallace's breakout year, however, came in the 2001–2002 season with the Detroit Pistons when Basketball Digest named him the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year. Playing as an undersize center, Wallace not only led the league in rebounding with an average of 13 per game, but also in blocked shots with 2.33 per game. As pointed out by Brett Ballantini in Basketball Digest, "seven–footers have owned" the shot blocking statistic since it was first recorded in 1973–74. Ballantini went on to note that Wallace "has broken that mold and shattered the notion of what a power forward (in center's clothing) can accomplish on the defensive end."
Rick Carlisle, former Pistons head coach, told Ballantini, "For a guy his size, the number of blocked shots he gets is phenomenal. Pound for pound, he's the best defensive player I've ever seen in my life." That season, Wallace helped the Pistons to their first Central Division title since 1989–90. According to USA Basketball, the Pistons improved from a 32–win season in 2000–01 to a 50–win season, the first 50–plus–win season for the team since 1996–97.
Wallace is also only the fourth player in NBA basketball who won both the rebounding and block shot titles the same year, putting him in the company of NBA greats Kareem Abdul–Jabbar, Bill Walton, and Hakeem Olajuwon.
For a big man who plays ferocious defense, Wallace is a quiet and modest individual who devoutly practices his Baptist faith. Married and a father, Wallace also has maintained his childlike love of cartoons and remote–control cars. But, it is hard work that has made him a success on the court. "In the NBA, 75 percent of the players don't want to work," Charles Oakley told Wertheim in Sports Illustrated. "When you get a guy like Ben who goes overtime, he's going to stand out."
Wallace has become immensely popular among basketball fans, who immediately recognize his trademark flowing Afro haircut. In the NBA store in New York City, Wallace's jersey is in the top 20 in sales. He has done advertisements for American Express, Sega, and others.
Wallace led the league in rebounding for most of the 2003 season and hovered at third in blocked shots. On April 23, 2003, Wallace was named the 2002–03 Defensive Player of the Year, an honor that marked the second consecutive season he earned the award. He is only the sixth player in NBA history to win the award in back–to–back seasons; he recorded a league–leading 15.4 rebounds, the highest regular season average since Dennis Rodman's 16.1 rpg in 1996–97, 3.15 blocks (second in the NBA), and 1.42 steals per game. When he was named a member of the 2003 All–Star Game, he became the first undrafted player in NBA history to be voted a starter in the event. For the 2003–04 season, Wallace ranked number one in offensive rebounds, and number two in defensive rebounds, total rebounds, blocks, rebounds per game, and blocks per game. Wallace has one goal in mind: "[I'm] just staying aggressive, playing basketball with lots of energy and having fun working the game, without getting too caught up in this or that, Xs and Os," Wallace told Joanne C. Gerstner in the Detroit News. "I'm just at a point in time where I am not worrying about making mistakes." Wallace's hard work paid off: the Detroit Pistons defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals in 2004. The Pistons won in five games, clinching the victory on June 15, 2004, with a 100-87 win. It was the team's first title in 14 years and Coach Larry Brown's first title ever.
Basketball Digest, Summer 2002.
Cincinnati Post, June 16, 2004, p. B1.
New York Post, June 16, 2004, p. 128.
Sports Illustrated, March 9, 1998; February 10, 2003, pp. 42–44.
"Ben Wallace," NBA.com , http://www.nba.com/playerfile/ben_wallace/index.html?nav=page (February 20, 2004).
"Ben Wallace," USA Basketball, http://www.usabasketball.com/biosmen/ben_wallace_bio.html (February 20, 2004).
"Wallace Does Much More than Just Take Up Space," Philadelphia Daily News, http://www.philly.com/mld/dailynews/sports/5179757.htm (February 20, 2004).
"Wallace Has Developed into Marketing Magnet," Detroit News, http://www.detnews.com/2003/pistons/0302/21/h04–91177.htm (February 20, 2004).
"Wallace Keeps Getting Stronger," Detroit News, http://www.detnews.com/2003/pistons/0303/26/c06–119749.htm (February 20, 2004).
— Marie L. Thompson