Who is This Guy?
Never mind that he was nearly cut in training camp, or that in 12 games earlier this season he sat on the team's bench for all 48 minutes. For Ben Wallace, the Wizards' affable reserve forward, the low point of his year came last month when he returned from a road trip to find that his truck had been stolen from outside his Maryland house. No mere four-by-four Jimmy, this customized, scarlet Chevy Tahoe was a bona fide Truckasaurus, replete with two televisions, a Sony PlayStation, a VCR, surround sound and a seat massager. "It was the first thing I bought with my contract, so I went all out," says a wistful-sounding Wallace, who signed a one-year, $326,700 deal last July. "When the police found it, it was totally stripped."
"Man, he had more cool stuff in that truck than I do in my house," says Washington center Terry Davis, who caught his first glimpse of Wallace's wheels last summer when the two were working out at their alma mater, Virginia Union. "On the other hand, if Ben keeps playing like he has been, he won't have any trouble affording a new one."
Davis has a point, given that in February, Wallace averaged 294 minutes, 4.9 points and 7.8 rebounds. A 6'9" sequoia who plays both ends of the floor with inelegance and Rasputin-like persistence—not unlike yet another Virginia Union alum, Knicks forward Charles Oakley-Wallace is a major reason the Wizards have withstood a rash of frontline injuries to remain in playoff contention. "He's done a great job rebounding, blocking shots and getting things done in the trenches," says coach Bernie Bickerstaff.
The inspired play of Wallace, who went undrafted after finishing his college career in 1996 and saw action in only 34 games last season, hasn't been lost on the crowds at the MCI Center. In a 113-101 Washington win against the Pistons on Feb. 2, Wallace cemented his status as a fan favorite by scoring seven points two on a monstrous follow-up jam—grabbing eight rebounds, blocking four shots and, not least, humiliating Detroit guard Jerry Stackhouse in a mano a mano battle. In the fourth quarter Stackhouse attempted a mid-range jump shot, only to have Wallace swat it into the seats. Undeterred, Stackhouse attempted a ferocious dunk the next trip down, but Wallace knocked the ball out of his hands. Stackhouse tried to retaliate yet again, but after driving hard to the basket, he was called for a charging foul when Wallace held his ground.
After fouling out with 1:40 to play, Wallace left to a standing O. "I never imagined anything like that," he says, absentmindedly stroking the tattoo depicting London's Big Ben on his cinder-block right biceps. "I knew I could play at this level, but I didn't know it would happen so soon."