AUBURN HILLS, Mich. "Damn!!!
"It's been what, a couple of All-Star games ago?"
I feel like Dave Chappelle when he recognizes me. I hadn't fled to Africa or anything, but I had no idea it had been that long since we'd locked eyes.
"'Bout that," I say, time traveling.
We dap, we hug.
In the past 15 months since he was traded here, I think I've done four feature stories on him. All saying the same thing: that he's the most valuable player in the League. No one understood. Not even him.
He stays leaned against the wall. Sony headphones in standard post-game position, covering his temples.
"So, what's been up with you?" he asks.
"Tryna stay outta jail." I answer.
"That ain't easy for a black man to do."
We both laugh.
I forgot how much I miss this brotha.
He was supposed to make the guarantee. After Game 3, before Game 4.
But he didn't.
It was like the entire city of Detroit was waiting. The Pistons' backs against the wall, down a game. This was where and when he was supposed to vent after practice on Monday that his team was going to win, without doubt. Security has always come through his voice in these times.
"I guarantee we will win Game ... "
That's the way it's been since he got here, whenever the Pistons needed to get lifted.
But this time ... nothing. Terminator X.
He kept it low. Let his Air Force 1s do the talking.
Maybe he wanted to see what the team would do without a guarantee. Maybe he was saving it in case, at the end of the night, the series was 3-1. Maybe he was just tired of being the one who has to ignite the unnecessary extra pressure that makes his team play better. Maybe he's waiting for Game 7.
I don't know. I didn't ask him.
Instead, he holds up the wall preaching another gospel. This one, Shaquille 32:1-4.
"Dog I'm tired, I ain't gonna lie," he says, so off-the-record that this shouldn't be posted. "Guarding that dude is ... "
He doesn't use words to explain. At 6-foot-10, 240, there are no words to explain.
"After I leave here, I'm going straight to the crib and straight to bed."
I could see it in his eyes. The battle is won, but he's still in a war.
Before the game, all over Detroit radio, all inside the Palace, everyone is wondering who to put it on. The blame. It had to be placed on one of them. Coach Brown for the extracurricular drama that the Cavs have created. The Body (Ben Wallace) for having only seven rebounds in the last game. Tayshaun for not being Tayshaun. Dan Crawford, Joe Forte and Greg Willard, the Game 3 refs, for the 54 foul shots they allowed the Heat to take.
In the end, all eyes landed on him. Sheed. So when he opened the second quarter with seven straight points including a 3, a breakaway dunk and a possession-changing rebound it was all but known that who you put it on is a much different issue than whose responsibility it is.
That's why the guarantee was needed. It's his responsibility.
It's never been easy to be a Rasheed Wallace fan. At times, he's made it more difficult than it needs to be.