However, his days of dominating the basketball court on the defensive end are long gone. Despite still being an imposing and intimidating physical specimen, age has taken the life from Ben Wallace's game.
Averaging 1.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 0.8 steals, and 0.8 blocks in an average of 16 minutes a game last season, Ben Wallace's numbers hark back to an old adage: men lie, women lie, but numbers don't. Big Ben appears to be on his last legs, and his numbers have fizzled into near obscurity.
Why is it then, that the league still desperately needs a player like Ben Wallace to linger a season or two longer?
His on the court contributions are close to being a non-factor, and his quiet demeanor suggests he wouldn't be much of a motivator in the locker room either.
All signs point to a desperately needed retirement for Ben Wallace.
However, with further inspection, the league has developed an inevitable progression that only players of Ben Wallace's ilk can attempt to postpone.
The league is going soft.
Almost every retired veteran and passionate basketball analyst agrees that the league has gone from tough-as-nails to soft-as-feathers (i.e. Michael Jordan stating he could score 100 points in today's league).
Perhaps it's for nostalgia and a yearning for years past; but Ben Wallace is one of the last players from an era that had to claw and scratch their way to success, and the league and its fans shouldn't be ready to let that go.
Consider this: the leaders of the championship teams are all considered mentally and physically tough competitors.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade of the most recent championship team are fearless defenders and attackers of the paint and thrive in clutch situations. The veteran Mavericks the year before consisted of veteran, gritty players like Jason Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki, and Shawn Marion who did not shy away from any contact and performed well under pressure.
In the two years prior to the Mavericks, the Lakers championship squad was lead by perhaps the most intense and focused player in the NBA, Kobe Bryant. The championship Celtics in 2007-2008 were lead by three of the mentally toughest veterans in the NBA in Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett.
Though it is obvious that toughness isn't the defining factor in winning games like talent is, it definitely pushes great teams over good teams when the talent level is close.
Recall the Lakers losing to the Celtics in 2007-2008. The blame was put on Pau Gasol being mentally and physically soft when playing against the tougher, grittier Kevin Garnett.
How does all this tie into Ben Wallace?
Ben Wallace is perhaps the toughest player in the NBA. Standing only 6' 9" and weighing approximately 10 pounds lighter than LeBron James, Ben Wallace managed to dominate the other centers in the NBA on the defensive end despite his smaller stature.
Furthermore, Ben Wallace was able to dominate the boards for numerous years, racking up DPOY after DPOY award for years utilizing every inch of his body and strength.
What better player to teach any team with developing youngsters how to rebound and play hard, physical defense, than a man who made his calling card being a physical enforcer when his talent level wasn't on par with most of the other athletes in the NBA?
As a veteran, he can instill his mental toughness and his hard-nosed techniques to youngsters from any team willing to take a gamble on a player with some life left in his legs.
The league is ultimately becoming a game of finesse and speed rather than a game of physicality and strength. Although there is nothing wrong with this evolution of the game, teams that are committed to winning realize that toughness, both mental and physical, are the keys to fully utilizing potential and talent.
Toughness has become a scarce and very valuable good. Ben Wallace is the perfect veteran to allocate the last remnants of this good to the current generation.
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