Ben Wallace has been a popular topic of discussion here this past week because he's awesome and just broke the record for most games played by an undrafted player -- an interesting record for a four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and five-time First Team All-Defensive Player.
I feel like Ben Wallace isn't getting the love he deserves, though, especially considering all the hype surrounding Jeremy Lin, another undrafted player who has had a remarkable six-game stretch. Sure, Lin's story centers around much more than his undrafted status, and he plays a high-usage position in an enormous market. However, given Wallace's coinciding record, the allusions to Big Ben's rise in the NBA could and should be much more prevalent in the media. After all, Wallace is likely the best undrafted player to ever step foot on the hardwood in the NBA. If Jeremy Lin is the next best thing to anything bacon-wrapped, I'd venture to say Wallace's name should be in at least every other conversation.
In Bill Simmons' latest mailbag, The All-Linsanity mailbag, Simmons does bring up Wallace once, but in doing so he displays a gross misunderstanding:
People don't come out of nowhere in the NBA. That's why Billy Ray Bates was the go-to reference these past seven days — what else were you going to say? Even someone like Ben Wallace (a more modern example of a normal "late NBA bloomer") excelled as a bench player for Washington before exploding for Orlando.
I have to believe by "Orlando" he meant "Detroit" because it's clear Wallace wasn't a household name until he blew up with the Pistons. That's when "Fear the Fro" took off and Wallace's rebound percentage jumped into the twenties while his rebounds per game went up by FIVE with ten extra minutes of burn per game. Wallace in Orlando was really no different from Wallace's final two seasons in Washington.
Simmons' aside on Wallace is just a microcosm of the overall failure to understand and appreciate the ascension of Ben Wallace, though, because, in my epinion, his story is every bit as precious as Lin's.
He came from a family of ELEVEN, raised in the cotton fields of a small town in Alabama; he had to spend two years at a community college before being noticed by Charles Oakley at a basketball camp, all so that he could transfer to Virginia Union, where he averaged a double-double in leading his team to the Division-II Final Four and lettered in baseball, football, and track.
Wallace played in Italy before getting picked up by the Wizards as an undrafted free agent. (Remember, the D-League wasn't established, yet). Wallace was almost cut by the Bullets, but injuries (sound familiar?) allowed him to put his revered hard work to task. He thrived in the bench role he was given and then was traded to Orlando. You know how the rest has played out.
Now, Wallace is a serious candidate for the Hall of Fame. He's a shoo-in, in my opinion. All from a beginning that yielded zero expectations, to 16 years of some of the best basketball in NBA history. That's true #Linsanity.