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Slight Chance of Glowers

Loathed in Portland, where he was seen as a 'blight,' Wallace is loved in Detroit, where he's a champion

May 23, 2005|Jerry Crowe | Times Staff Writer

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Contrary to what some Oregonians might believe, not everybody dislikes Rasheed Wallace.

In fact, it might be difficult to find anybody in Michigan who has an unkind word to say about him, who does not appreciate the competitive fire he brings to the court or the playful, lighthearted mood he fosters in the locker room.

"Playful" and "lighthearted" were words rarely associated with the mercurial Wallace during his 7 1/2 seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers. But winning has a way of brightening moods and burnishing unsavory reputations, and Wallace's image has benefited from 15 months with the Detroit Pistons.

Team President Joe Dumars, who made the trade that brought Wallace to Detroit in February 2004, has stated flatly that the Pistons would not have won the NBA championship last season without him.

"Rasheed," Dumars said, "brings great talent, toughness, smarts and swagger -- all the things you need to be a champion in this league."

Once called incorrigible, Wallace is now called fiery.

Once a cancer, he's now a champion.

"I'm the megaphone on the team," Wallace said. "I'll say what other people feel."

One knock against him is that he is sometimes lazy on offense, drifting outside rather than posting up, an opinion that has dogged him for years. And the forward's infamous temper still flares brightly at times -- his 27 technical fouls led the league this season.

Nor is the impetuous Wallace above his "nah-nah, nah-nah-nah" moments, such as when he returned to Portland in March, stroking his beard throughout a postgame interview to make sure his championship ring shone brightly in the television lights. He refused to take questions from Portland reporters, which actually was an improvement over his initial return with the Pistons.

Last season, he walked through a media horde as if it weren't there, acknowledging reporters' presence only with a middle finger raised above his shoulder.

The Pistons, though, seem not to regard these transgressions as particularly troubling, Dumars opining that "you don't want to stifle Rasheed's emotions [because] that's a huge part of what makes him great."

They love his edginess and see him as the ultimate compatriot, a two-time All-Star willingly sacrificing his own interests for the greater good and far from "a blight on the organization," as Wallace was once described by a team official in Portland.

They love the way he yells, after an opponent's missed free throw, "Ball don't lie." They love the boxing-style championship belts he had made for his teammates, the funny nicknames he gives them. And they love it when he says of those doubting the Pistons' chances of repeating their title run, "When it comes down to it, we'll smack 'em in the mouth with the trophy again."

Said reserve guard Lindsey Hunter: "He brings a cocky confidence that kind of puts us over the edge."

Nobody has ever doubted Wallace's confidence, or his ability. Athletic and fundamentally sound at 6 feet 11 and 230 pounds, he also has what coaches call a high IQ for the game. His high-arching shot, delivered from long arms stretched far above his head, is almost impossible to block and his willingness to share the ball was evident even when he played at Simon Gratz High in Philadelphia, where he was the national player of the year but the No. 2 scorer on his team.

Quick and versatile enough to guard centers or forwards, he also is "as good a defender as I've coached," Piston Coach Larry Brown said.

His passion is noteworthy too. The Pistons nodded their approval last week when he guaranteed a crucial playoff victory over the Indiana Pacers.

"I knew once he did that he was going to put pressure on himself to be at his best," teammate Chauncey Billups told reporters after Wallace contributed 17 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots in a Game 4 victory that turned the tide for the Pistons in the second-round series. "I love it when he does that."

Wallace dismissed his guarantee, however, as "just part of the sideshow."

His act wasn't always such a hit.

Most infamous are his foul-mouthed meltdowns resulting in technical fouls, a record 41 in the 2000-01 season, which even his mother won't abide.

"I don't cringe," Jackie Wallace said last week. "I'm [mad] at him, telling him to shut up. That's what I'm doing, either at the game or at home. I'm fussing with him fussing at them, but I've come to understand why he wants to argue. Nine times out of 10, if he's arguing the call it's a bad call; I will give him that.

"But I also understand that he cannot referee the game and play the game. And once he realizes that, then we'll be straight."

Two seasons ago, Wallace allegedly threatened referee Tim Donaghy on the loading dock at Portland's Rose Garden arena, drawing a seven-game suspension, the longest in NBA history not involving drugs or violence.

And that was after a game in which he scored 38 points, made 16 of 20 shots and helped the Trail Blazers to a 100-92 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.

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