From the start, Ben Wallace was snubbed. The famed 1996 NBA Draft class could have been even more storied with the addition of Wallace’s name to the list. He went undrafted however and his only offer was for the Italian team Viola Reggio Calabria.
It would take a few weeks playing Italy before the Washington Bullets would come calling. The undersized big man, generously listed at 6’9”, was resistant at first, worried he would be pigeonholed as a center. After Wes Unseld himself called Wallace and abated this concern, his NBA journey would finally begin.
Wallace would slowly come into his own with two additional years in Washington and one with the Orlando Magic.
It was his time with the Detroit Pistons where Big Ben would solidify his status as an NBA legend. Ironically, it was a trade that was deemed one-sided that sent Wallace to Detroit along with Chucky Atkins for Grant Hill. At the time it was Hill who was the burgeoning superstar, though he saw a notable decline in his production due largely to injury in Orlando.
Though never able to attain even an average offensive repertoire, Wallace sufficiently compensated for his offensive deficiencies with defensive dominance. In Detroit he would go on to secure the Defensive Player of the Year award four times. A feat that only him and Dikembe Mutombo have ever accomplished.
Wallace was also a crucial cog in the unlikely championship run of the 2004 Detroit Pistons. Serving as their defensive anchor and rim protector.
His career achievements are extensive – four time NBA All-Star, six time All-NBA Defensive Team, two time rebounding leader, and is the only player in NBA history to record 1,000 rebounds, 100 blocks, and 100 steals in 4 consecutive seasons.
Despite these extensive achievements, despite being the only undrafted player to be voted as a starter for an All-Star team – Wallace remains on the outside looking in of the Basketball Hall of Fame, much like he did on draft night in 1996.
More incredible still is that fact that Ben Wallace’s worthiness for the Hall of Fame is somewhat of a topic of debate among basketball fans and analysts alike. Even Basketball Reference rates his odds of getting in at a paltry 45.3%.
Before there was “Fear the Beard” in reference to James Harden, there was “Fear the ‘Fro” in reference to Ben Wallace. Wallace’s ongoing exclusion from the Hall of Fame is a function of the perpetuating bias against the vital role defense plays in winning basketball games. Offensive superstars that lag on defense will get their due but defensive specialists are viewed as overly niche.
This stereotype is particularly embarrassing when one considers how common the trope “defense wins championships.”
Ben Wallace was a unique player that successfully put his stamp on the game and outside of the gong that he got for every shot he blocked in Detroit and the Pistons retiring his jersey, he has yet to properly receive his credit.
It his time to let Wallace join the contemporaries he was separated from in 1996. Ben Wallace needs to be in the Hall of Fame.