Enigmatic Pistons forward takes us for a wild ride
Posted: Monday June 6, 2005 12:46PM; Updated: Tuesday June 7, 2005 1:54AM
The Pistons' season rests on the shoulders of the volatile Rasheed Wallace.
My wife was cleaning out, err, helping me clean out my closet Sunday, unearthing long-forgotten gems like my Dominique Wilkins Number Retirement Night t-shirt and a game-worn Reggie Miller No. 31 finger sleeve. Deep down in the bottom of the closet, under a Dan Marino Pitt jersey, she, um, we discovered an army green t-shirt that read "BOTH TEAMS PLAYED HARD." She tossed it into the throwaway pile until I dove to the rescue, explaining how those words were what Rasheed Wallace had answered to five different questions after a Blazers/Mavs playoff game years ago. The NBA fined him 30 G's, and one well-humored person at the league slapped the phrase on a t-shirt and gifted a few media-types.
If any NBA player deserves to have his life immortalized on t-shirts, it's Wallace. He got T'd up in the McDonald's All-American Game, for goodness sakes. This is the same guy who holds under-publicized coat drives for the homeless in Philly. The same guy who, when pulled over by police and asked if he had marijuana in his car, (according to the police report) responded, "No, we smoked it all up." Sometimes 'Sheed and I have talked for upwards of 30 minutes. Sometimes he won't say a word to me. This is a guy who has been liked by almost every teammate he's had, and yet is known as a walking technical foul. The same guy who delights sneaker-heads everywhere by insisting on wearing Air Force 1s every night. ("Straight out the box, homey," he once told me.)
And now, Pistons fans, your season rests on this guy's shoulders. Are you nervous?
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Despite his myriad inconsistencies, he has one of the best basketball backgrounds in the NBA: Rasheed grew up in Philadelphia and won two national championships with prep powerhouse Simon Gratz; was named national player of the year his senior season; played two years for Dean Smith at North Carolina; set the ACC record for field-goal percentage; was named first-team All-American as a sophomore; has been coached by NBA stalwarts P.J. Carlesimo, Mike Dunleavy, Mo Cheeks, Jimmy Lynam and Larry Brown; is a two-time All-Star.
This may explain why Rasheed has a championship ring while guys such as Charles Barkley and Karl Malone don't. (Of course, Rasheed being Rasheed, he recently had his ring re-sized to fit his middle finger.) Not that Rasheed's more talented than anyone else, but he is arguably a better team player. On raw talent alone, 'Sheed is probably the best player on the Pistons. He can defend when he wants to. He can shoot the 3, shoot inside, post up. At 6-foot-11, with a release point almost two feet above his head, he can get a shot off whenever he needs to. He has the size and skill to rebound and block, and he's the best-passing big man on the Pistons. In a way, Rasheed was the precursor to guys such as Kevin Garnett and Marvin Williams, the long, athletic power forward prototype currently en vogue in the NBA.
Many people thought Rasheed was going to be a superstar. He made me think that. For years he teetered on the brink, averaging at least 17 points and six boards per game each year since 2001. In the 2000 playoffs, he broke out, nearly single-handedly beating the Lakers in the playoffs.