By Ashley Scoby
@AshleyScoby

Ben Wallace’s beard is speckled with gray these days. And if he grows out his signature afro, he says, there is way too much white in there to keep it around.

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But something about Wallace and the way he played basketball is timeless. The Pistons thought so too. More than a decade after he won an NBA championship with the franchise, Wallace saw his No. 3 jersey raised to the Palace of Auburn Hills’ rafters Saturday during halftime of the Pistons’ 113-95 win over the Warriors.

He tried not to, but Wallace cried.

Former coach Larry Brown took the microphone and talked about how he spends his days now searching for high school players who play the way Wallace played. Sitting there in his seat of honor, Wallace brushed tears away. Two seats down from him, his daughter Bailey cried, too, as Wallace’s wife, Chanda, wiped her face.

“You embody what we’re trying to create,” team owner Tom Gores said.

He’s not wrong. All the marketing slogans – heart, hustle, embracing the grind – the Pistons use these days are an attempt to get back to the days when Wallace was patrolling the paint.

Wallace is the first undrafted player in NBA history to amass 10,000 rebounds. He leads the Pistons’ franchise in all-time blocked shots (1,436). Four times he was named to NBA Defensive Player of the Year. He led the 2004 team to an NBA championship.

He was mean. He was nasty. His snafu with Ron Artest is what preceded the infamous “Malice in the Palace.” His game wasn’t aesthetically pleasing, and it was never meant to be.

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“Most of the things I did on the floor – it wasn’t pretty,” Wallace said. “It wasn’t gonna get a whole lot of excitement or ‘ooh’s and ‘aah’s … On the playground you didn’t say ‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1, grab a rebound like Ben Wallace.’”

But for all his hard edges and stare-downs and volleyball-spike blocks, Wallace was something of a teddy bear. There was always a softer side behind the chest pounding, and it showed Saturday.

In the first quarter, well before his ceremony, Wallace saw himself on the Palace’s big screen. He smiled and waved, flashing his ’04 championship ring. But the crowd only grew louder, most of them standing, and Wallace shook his head. Behind one of those giant hands that brought in so many rebounds years ago, he hid his face. Finally, grinning in something like embarrassment, Wallace stood up, inciting the sellout crowd of 21,584 to the kind of frenzy the Palace hasn’t seen in years.

Later he would call those fans the best in the world. He spent his jersey retirement speech thanking the fans for inspiring him, the organization for taking a chance on him, and the teammates for being his rocks.

Those fellow 2004 champions were there in support. Rip Hamilton. Rasheed Wallace. Tayshaun Prince. Chauncey Billups, who will have his own jersey retired later this season. Prince was a little teary-eyed himself as Wallace took the microphone and talked about what it meant to be a Piston.

His impact has been felt throughout the league. Videos from Pat Riley, Jerry Stackhouse, Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd and a myriad of others played on the big screen throughout the game. His fieriness and fearlessness, the blocks and the fist pumps – all were praised as crucial pieces of a player who transcended the modern need for flashiness. He just did his job.

That’s how his teammates remember him, too, no matter how gray Wallace may get.

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“On the floor, his personality was his toughness – the toughness that he exudes,” Billups said in the Pistons’ locker room after the game. “We took on the personality of Ben Wallace. And that whole ‘going to work’ mantra we had my years here, our years here, was Ben Wallace. Obviously it worked.”