DETROIT (BVM) – Ben Wallace is labeled by many as the best undrafted player to ever suit up in the NBA. Coming out of Virginia Union University, Wallace wasn’t even guaranteed to make an NBA roster, let alone become an All-Star.
However, he defied the odds, becoming an NBA champion and one of the best defensive players the league has ever seen. Since retiring a decade ago, Wallace’s career has been rightfully recognized, and he remains in a role with the team he starred on.
Ben Wallace’s early life, college career
Born and raised in White Hall, Alabama, Wallace attended Central High School in nearby Hayneville. There, he was an all-state player competing in football, baseball and basketball, but only starred on the hardwood in his senior year. During a summer basketball camp in high school, Wallace was discovered by former NBA player Charles Oakley who became his mentor.
However, Wallace was not a sought after basketball recruit. His collegiate career began at Cuyahoga Community College, a junior college in Cleveland. Still, Wallace quickly proved his talent, averaging 17 rebounds and nearly seven blocks a game while at Cuyahoga.
Wallace went on to transfer to Virginia Union – a Division II school and Oakley’s alma mater. There, he averaged a double-double, helped the Panthers to an NCAA Division II Final Four appearance and was named a Division II All-American.
College: Virginia Union
Drafted: Not Drafted
— Ben Wallace (@FearTheFro) April 13, 2018
Ben Wallace’s NBA career
Wallace went undrafted out of college, likely in part due to his 6-foot-9 size and lack of scoring at the center position. He went on to play briefly in Italy, but before long, he would latch on in the NBA with the Washington Bullets. The center didn’t post many notable numbers early in his career, but by his final season in Washington D.C. in 1998-99, Wallace was averaging 8.3 rebounds and two blocks per contest.
In 1999, Wallace was traded to the Orlando Magic. He would spend just one season in Orlando, putting up similar numbers to his final season with the Wizards while becoming a full-time starter. Following the season, Wallace was traded alongside guard Chucky Atkins to the Detroit Pistons for forward Grant Hill.
From there, his career took off. In his first season in the Motor City, Wallace posted averages of 6.4 points, 13.2 rebounds and 2.3 blocks.
In 2001-02, he was even better, leading the league with 13 rebounds per game and a league and career-best 3.5 blocks. In 2002-03, Wallace again averaged over three blocks as well as a league and career-best 15.4 rebounds, making his first All-Star appearance. In each of those seasons, Wallace was named NBA Defensive Player of the Year, while the Pistons won the Central Division. Yet, the team could not get over the hump to the NBA Finals.
That would change in the 2003-04 season where Wallace was again a tremendous presence for the Pistons inside, averaging 9.5 points, 12.4 rebounds and three blocks. Alongside the likes of Rasheed Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, the Pistons finally reached the NBA Finals where they upset the Lakers, winning the series 4-1 under head coach Larry Brown.
18 YEARS AGO TODAY
The Detroit Pistons beat the Lakers "Super Team" of Kobe, Karl Malone, Shaq & Gary Payton in the 2004 NBA Finals.
In the 5-game series, the Lakers only scored more than 90 once. Their lowest point total came in a 68-88 loss in GM3. pic.twitter.com/vZyW6C37QF
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) June 15, 2022
The Pistons would make a bid at back-to-back championships in 2004-05, but fell just short, losing four games to three in the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs. Still, Wallace was impressive once again, earning the third NBA Defensive Player of the Year award of his career. Wallace would earn his fourth such honor in a five-year span in 2005-06, also making his fourth and final All-Star game appearance as he started all 82 games for the Pistons.
However, each of those seasons would not come without controversy. In 2004-05, Wallace was suspended six games for his role in the infamous “Malice at the Palace” brawl with Ron Artest and the Indiana Pacers. In 2005-06, Wallace and head coach Flip Saunders got in a heated exchange during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, leading to the center’s benching.
That would mark the end of Wallace’s initial tenure in Detroit, as he signed a four-year, $60 million contract the following offseason with the Chicago Bulls. Unfortunately, Wallace’s move to the Windy City was nothing like his time in Detroit. In 2006-07, Wallace still posted averages of 10.7 rebounds and two blocks, but the Bulls would fall to his former Pistons squad in the postseason.
The following season, Wallace was dealt to another Central Division foe, the Cleveland Cavaliers. While the 6-foot-9 center made a defensive impact in Cleveland, his numbers began tailing off.
After being traded to the Phoenix Suns and later bought out, Wallace reunited with the Pistons for the final three years of his career from 2009-12. While Wallace’s individual success and the Pistons’ team success were nowhere near what they were during his first stint, the big man received a nice send off and hit a few milestones in his final years, including grabbing 10,000 rebounds, playing 1,000 games, and appearing in the most games for an undrafted player.
Upon retirement, Wallace finished an impressive 16-year career playing in 1,088 games with 6,254 points, 10,482 rebounds and 2,137 blocks. Wallace averaged two blocks and 9.6 rebounds in his career, and an even more impressive 2.3 blocks and 11.3 rebounds during his years in Detroit.
People forget how dominant Ben Wallace was on defense. Truly a force to be reckoned with. pic.twitter.com/kEJzrCJiFI
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) August 20, 2018
Ben Wallace’s achievements, earnings and personal life
Wallace racked up numerous achievements throughout his NBA career. In addition to being a four-time All-Star and NBA Defensive Player of the Year – joining Dikembe Mutombo as the only NBA players to win the award four times – Wallace was also named All-NBA five times and to the All-NBA Defensive team six times.
The Alabama native is also the only player in league history to record 1,000 rebounds, 100 blocks and 100 steals in four consecutive seasons (2001-2004), one of three players to record 150 blocks and 100 steals in seven consecutive seasons (2001-2007), and one of three players to average 15 rebounds and three blocks in a single season (2002-03).
In addition, Wallace holds Pistons franchise records for blocks in a quarter (5), half (7), game (10), season (278) and career (1,486). In January 2016, the big man had his number retired by the Pistons.
Wallace is also a member of the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame and the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. In 2021, the Pistons great became the first-ever undrafted player to be named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
BEN WALLACE will be the first UNDRAFTED player in the HALL OF FAME!
◾ 16 Seasons
◾ NBA Champion
◾ 4 x DPOY
◾ 6 x All-Defense
◾ 5 x All-NBA
◾ 4 x All-Star
◾ 2 x REB Leader
◾ 1 x BLK Leaderpic.twitter.com/MWNweErfay
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) May 15, 2021
Wallace is married to his wife, Chanda, and the couple has three kids: Ben Jr., Bryce and Bailey.
Ben Wallace’s post-playing life
Throughout his time in the NBA, Wallace was also busy off the court with things like becoming the cover athlete for NBA 2K5 and introducing his own shoe called “the Big Ben.”
His business endeavors have only continued throughout his retirement. Long an avid collector and racer of RC cars, Wallace helped found Wallace Motorsports which distributes RC products.
More recently, Wallace has invested to be a part of Green Door Distillery based in Kalamazoo, Michigan where he will launch his own line of spirits.
— David Horak (@DavidHorakTV) June 17, 2022
In 2022, the Pistons legend has also partnered with Rair to launch a line of cannabis products appropriately named “Undrafted.”
Wallace has not always had it easy in retirement. In 2014, he was arrested, which came after a 2011 arrest during his playing career. He has also admitted to struggling with depression shortly after retirement as he adjusted to the next chapter of his life.
However, through the years, the center has found his way back to basketball, whether that be representing the Pistons at the NBA Draft Lottery as the franchise earned the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft to be able to select Cade Cunningham, or recently weighing in on the expected success of his former Pistons teammate and new Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham.
In 2018, Wallace also became a part owner of the Pistons’ G League affiliate, the Grand Rapids Drive, alongside team president Steve Jbara – also the owner of Green Door Distillery. Wallace was part of the Drive until the team became an affiliate of the Denver Nuggets.
But in 2021, he found a new role within the organization, as he was hired as a basketball operations and team engagement advisor for the Pistons. In his role, Wallace assists Detroit head coach Dwane Casey and the rest of the team’s coaching staff in mentoring and developing players both on the Pistons and the organization’s new G League affiliate, the Motor City Cruise. In addition, Wallace is active with the franchise’s business initiatives and community involvement.
“Ben is a Hall of Famer and a Pistons legend who has continued to come back home and support our team and our organization,” Pistons owner Tom Gores said in a statement announcing the move in 2021. “He embodies everything we are building here and will be a real asset to Dwane, Troy and the rest of our staff. Ben helped set the standard for what it means to be a Piston and will be a tremendous influence for our young players.”
Arguably the greatest undrafted player to ever suit up in the NBA has had his basketball career come full circle. It’s been an improbable ride for Wallace already, and he continues to find success with the organization he made his name with.