Ben Wallace (2000)
It is hard to make an impression while playing just one year in any city. There is hardly enough time to get attached to a player or learn his personality and traits. Especially when that season sees a lot of coming and going of players and the overall strategy for that year was simply to clear cap room.
Every player on the Orlando Magic’s beloved Heart and Hustle team was a castoff in some way and very likely expendable at the end. It explains why so few players last more than that year. And it added to the surprise of that year.
Ben Wallace likely would have been a forgotten player in Magic history. He averaged 4.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game as an 81-game starter for that Magic team. But Orlando already had a beloved hustler in Bo Outlaw. And Wallace did not have the ear to ear grin.
No, Wallace was stoic. He was going to beat you on the floor. And he may not have been able to do much more than dunk with the ball, but you were going to have a hard time scoring.
Wallace still endeared himself to fans. There was always the mystery of which hairstyle Wallace would choose to sport for each game. His cornrows or his unkempt afro. Each terrorized opposing offenses and made them know it was going to be a tough game scoring.
The TD Waterhouse Centre jumbotron would display the team’s record with each of Wallace’s hairstyles like it mattered. Which style to go with probably depended more on Wallace’s whims than any superstition.
Wallace’s popularity with Magic fans became a wistful what if as the 25-year-old became an All-Star and defensive anchor with the Detroit Pistons. Orlando used Ben Wallace in a sign and trade to acquire superstar Grant Hill (giving Hill a little extra money). But those Tracy McGrady-era Magic teams sure could have used a defensive stalwart like Wallace.
Wallace had all the ingredients to make a player supremely popular. Except the longevity with the team that he might have deserved.