AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) – Ben Wallace was talking about Jeremy Lin – but in a way, he was also discussing his own unique career.
“It takes a special type of guy to stay at something long enough to make it to this level,” Wallace said. “A lot of times you’re being told that you’re too this, you’re too that, you can’t do this, you can’t do that.”
Amid the hoopla Lin has created with his unexpected rise, Wallace was on the verge of setting a new standard for undrafted players. The Detroit veteran was tied with Avery Johnson for the most games played by an undrafted player since the 1976-77 NBA-ABA merger. Wallace – who says this is his final season – broke the record playing in his 1,055th game Tuesday night against San Antonio.
“Once you get here, you want to be able to show everybody that you’re capable of going out and playing at a high level night in and night out,” Wallace said before the game. “I’m just proud to have had the opportunity to come here and play.”
Wallace tied Johnson’s mark Sunday night. Next on the list of undrafted players are David Wesley (949) and Bo Outlaw (914), according to STATS LLC. The latest undrafted player to make a splash is Lin, the guard from Harvard who has helped the New York Knicks improve their fortunes lately with his dazzling play.
Wallace can relate to Lin because he too had to carve out a niche for himself. Wallace was a virtual unknown before earning his spot in the NBA with his tough defense around the basket and terrific rebounding ability. He eventually won four defensive player of the year awards and helped the Pistons win the 2004 championship.
After considering retirement, the 37-year-old Wallace decided to come back for 2011-12, his 16th season in the NBA. He confirmed Monday it will definitely be his last, and he’s looking forward to spending time with his family.
“No consideration to coming back,” he said. “This is definitely my last year.”
Wallace, who played his college ball at Virginia Union, made his NBA debut with Washington in November 1996. After three seasons there and one with Orlando, he was dealt to the Pistons in a trade that sent Grant Hill to the Magic.
His career took off in Detroit. The 6-foot-9 Wallace led the NBA in rebounds per game and blocks per game in 2001-02. That season, he won his first of four defensive player of the year awards in a five-season span.
“You look at his story. That’s a great story,” said Lawrence Frank, who is in his first season as Detroit’s coach. “Not only undrafted, but the guy came into NBA training camp with Boston and they were playing him at 2-guard – seriously. The guy was a bedrock. When you think about the Pistons, he’s a guy that immediately you identify those teams in 2000 on – as kind of the heart and soul of that group.”
Wallace has never been a prolific scorer. This season, he’s scored 28 points in 28 games. In 398 minutes, he’s attempted only two free throws. Those came Friday night against New Jersey.
Wallace once said his older brothers wouldn’t pass the ball to him when he was younger, so he had to fight for it by getting rebounds and steals. It was a good way to learn to play basketball without shooting much.
After leaving the Pistons following the 2005-06 season, Wallace played with Chicago and Cleveland before coming back to Detroit in 2009. This is the third season of his second stint with the Pistons. He considered retirement after last season, and in November, Wallace pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of drunken driving and possessing a firearm while under the influence of alcohol. At that point, the NBA lockout was still dragging on, but when it ended, Wallace was on the Pistons’ practice court shooting baskets on the first day players were allowed to use team facilities again.
Wallace has started 10 games this season and can still contribute, whether he’s on the court defending the low post or helping young big man Greg Monroe adjust to the league.
“He has so much knowledge he can share,” said Monroe, who is in his second pro season. “He’s definitely helped me out a lot, especially on the defensive end. The more time I spend with him, the better I’ll get.”
Although Wallace’s playing days are numbered, he’s leaving quite a legacy, and soon, he might be working at a different kind of court. He says he’s interested in going to law school at some point.
“That’s definitely on the radar,” Wallace said. “I’m going to take a little time, get away from basketball, clear my head and jump back into school.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)