When I use cantankerous to describe ‘Sheed, it's meant it in the most complimentary way possible. From the moment he came on the college basketball scene at North Carolina, it was obvious he was one of the most boisterous and skilled players we would ever see. You could also tell he was the consummate teammate. The man played with Jerry Stackhouse, Jeff McGinnis, and Donald Williams to form one of the more formidable teams in college basketball.
The exploits carried over to the NBA, when he quickly became one of the up-and-coming power forwards in basketball, as well as someone who let everyone know he was on the court. People get on him for getting techs, but that’s part of what makes ‘Sheed who he is. There’s more on that later, though. When he was on the Bullets, he had an opportunity to play with a young Chris Webber and Juwan Howard, but Webber got hurt before we had a chance to see that trio at full strength. We really didn’t get a glimpse of what was to come from ‘Sheed, until he got to Portland.
When he got to Portland, the complete Rasheed Wallace, as a ballplayer, was unleashed. It became pretty obvious that he was arguably the best player on those stacked Trailblazer teams, as he also became one of the most versatile forwards in the game. As Charles Barkley always said, “If Rasheed Wallace put his mind to it, he could be the best player in basketball.” Sure, there are some people who don’t like it, but it’s the truth. The man was an unstoppable force in the low-post, a terrific defender, and a good rebounder. The gripe people had about him is he didn’t do it all the time, which even his most ardent supporters, me included, would admit. At the same time, ‘Sheed was one of the most selfless players in the NBA at the time, and if that seems ridiculous, take a look at basketball then and now, and there’s plenty of proof out there that the statement makes sense.
Here’s the thing that’s clear about ‘Sheed: you either love the man or hate him. When he racked up technical fouls at a record pace, you may have thought it was a little ridiculous, but it’s ‘Sheed, so you accept it for what it is. Also, there’s plenty of truth to some of those rants, especially about players flopping. For someone who hates seeing players flop, it was great to see someone speak out against that malarkey.
People loved to be on the man’s team, he was a perennial All-Star, and had an old-school mentality about basketball that was evident even when he was a younger player, which carried over to his later days as a Detroit Piston. He was the missing piece to a team that was on the verge for a couple of seasons, but needed that extra push to get over the hump. To this day, I still laugh at the sight of Slava Medvedenko trying to guard him in the 2004 Finals. It was insulting, and ‘Sheed ended up destroying the young man, and sent him on back to where he came from, while also helping Detroit earn a title over the favored (by people who were drinking the Shaq/Kobe/Mailman/Glove kool-aid) Lakers.
He also spoke his mind off-the-court, too. Some people didn’t like what he said about the league drafting players younger and younger and exploiting young Black players back in 2003, but what did he say that was a lie? Shoot, just look at this past draft. The first senior that got drafted wasn’t until the latter part of the draft, and a majority of players taken early were underclassmen. Some people were so busy criticizing the messenger that they ignored the message, but he was telling the truth.
Even with all the aggression the dude showed, he was easily one of the funniest cats the league had, just from the “both teams played hard” press conference, as well as his world-famous “we will win Game Two” guarantee of the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals. We also can’t forget “ball don’t lie,” and pretty much knowing anytime someone gets a stupid foul called on them, we can thank ‘Sheed for bringing that phrase to the forefront. He’s also the only player I remember who called “glass” any and every time he made a bank shot. It’s even more reason why he’ll be missed.
His last hoorah with the Celtics this past year was bittersweet. Game Seven was the end of the road, and was supposed to end with him and KG celebrating a championship together, but instead, we saw ‘Sheed lying on the ground after picking up his sixth foul, exhausted from giving his all, and limping to the bench. Even with that said, when it was all over, ‘Sheed still held his head up like a real man, and for that, along with the reasons above, is why I’m gonna miss Rasheed Wallace now that he’s gone.
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Portland picture courtesy of SLAM Magazine