How many times have we seen an NBA player either play in person or on TV and wonder, “who is this guy”? That question plays in my mind often when I hear people mention Rasheed Wallace and either what he did or didn’t accomplish during his NBA career. But for me, it goes a little deeper than just a question and answer.
Wallace was the best High School player I’ve ever seen and I watched a few great NBA players in my day play. I witnessed LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and John Wall to name a few but those were more one game snippets but with Wallace, it was rather different. I just happened to share the same High School alma mater with him, shared the same classes, same friends, and upbringing but not the same talent. When many see him, they see the guy that failed to win a National Championship at he University of North Carolina on a team that featured Eric Montross and Jerry Stackhouse.
I see him as being the guy who allowed me to be the first to know that he would be attending UNC as we sat in class and watched the 1993 NCAA Tournament. He lifted his shirt up letting us know with a Carolina Tar Heel t-shirt that he made his decision.
A championship wasn’t in the cards for him in college, and while many say he failed, I say he achieved. What people saw as a failure I took as a success, as he managed to come back during my senior year in 1994 and talked to the graduating class about life after High School.
Me being me all I wanted to know was who was better in practice, he or Montross. As his talk ended, he told me how great the state of North Carolina was and that he would be back later in the school year before I graduated. In my last football game against rival Dobbins AVTS, as I walked out the locker room, there he was smiling, he kept his promise. I didn’t care about the 10 points and six rebounds he averaged his freshman year, all I could remember was that my friend kept his word.
As I graduated, my first choice of schools was Shaw University in Raleigh NC, 30 minutes from UNC Chapel Hill where Wallace was playing college basketball. His sophomore year, he and the Tarheels failed yet again to win a championship, I was bummed for him, but he was right, the state of NC was lovely. But in 1995, Wallace figured enough was enough and declared himself for the NBA Draft. The Washington Bullets selected him with the 4th overall pick and just like that, my childhood friend was an NBA player.
His career with the Bullets didn’t last too long as he was shipped to the Portland Trail Blazers in a move that shaped the Blazers, but depending on who you talk to it was either great or troubling. Wallace played eight seasons in RipCity, making the All-Star team twice but he will be remembered again for the non-winning and backlash he encountered during his time in Portland. Wallace was part of one the best basketball teams in NBA history that never won a title. That 2000 Blazers had everything a team or fan could want but, maybe the baggage was just a bit too heavy as they fell in back-to-back seasons in the Western Conference Finals.
Wallace, never one to shy away from his emotions led the NBA that season in technical fouls with 41 and still holds the NBA record with 317. Tech’s aside he was a solid player for the Blazers as he put up per’s of 19 points 8 rebounds in his two All-Star seasons with Portland. He was later traded to the Detroit Pistons where they were in need of a player with his fiery persona as he helped lead the Pistons to an upset Finals victory over the same Shaq and Kobe-led Lakers team that ousted his Blazers a few years earlier.
When looking back at Wallace’s career, as a fan I still felt he could’ve done more, but as a friend, he did all he could do. He’s the reason I’ve always keep the Blazers in my heart after Clyde Drexler left. Fans look at him and see the league leader in tech’s, I look at him and see the 17-year-old kid running track and field in high school screaming at the top of his lungs as he crossed the finish line.
What he has done in the Portland and Detroit community is nothing new as he was always a giving person. There were times when we would sit in the hallway during class change and just crack jokes on everybody passing or sneak into the gym during lunch and play ball until one of us forgot it was time for next period.
The NBA was a job for him as it is for others that lace ’em up for 82 games a season, but for Wallace, it was a victory. You can view him as a problem child, a leader of the Jail Blazers, and maybe I have rose-colored shades on when it comes to him but, again, I ask that question, how much do you know about an NBA player?