AUBURN HILLS, Mich. The hair.
Not that it starts there, but at some point, we must acknowledge the Samson of it all.
In Games 1 and 2, Ben Wallace had his dome stitched. The braids were in effect. He played like comedian George Wallace instead of the man the streets been calling The Michael Graham Remix. DP lost both of those games.
Game 3, poof. He had the cotton candy out. Fifteen points, three steals, four dunks (including a reverse oop), five blocked shots, 11 rebounds. He came back. Pistons win.
So when he walked into the Palace for Game 4 with his hair blown-out and on freeze, you knew the game was over before 9:24 ET, which is when they tossed the ball in the air.
He's now two wins away from immortality.
According to Stuart Scott, it was Rip Hamilton who basically defined this team by simply saying, "We believe in him."
When Stu told Ben about this, Wallace got deep.
"In an independent society," Ben said, according to Stu, "It's a lot of pressure when everyone puts their faith in you it's deep."
Then in typical Ben Wallace M.O. he said, "You do what you gotta do."
Although no one will admit it, Ben Wallace is the image the NBA doesn't want.
Big, black, braids, tats, broken economic upbringing, HBCU education, non-GQ face, uncomical, un-buffoonish personality, nothing phony, no soft spots. He's that unspoken stereotype that white America has of the black athlete. He's what they fear. Fear of the 'fro? It's much deeper than that.
It's heard inside certain circles that Ben is one of the reasons the ratings for this Finals are on course to be the worst ever. No one will say it on the record, but the conventional un-wisdom goes like this: Everyone appreciates his game, but no one wants to watch it. He's a defense-first-thinking All-Star ("Defense is what we hang our hat on," he said during an ABC bumper) whose following is cult, not continental.
Ben Wallace being a star in the NBA is as absurd as rapper Bump J getting a McDonald's commercial. Then again, as they say in Detroit, "'Sheed happens."
He doesn't try to talk proper. He doesn't dress in suits to play the "corporate" game. And unlike a lot of [super]star black athletes and entertainers and CEOs and high-ranking politicians he's married to a sista. One who, after Game 2, apparently acted like a true "sista" and told him about his game.
One who was the first to greet him when he came off the court after Game 4.
But like Jordan, Woods, Clinton, etc., Ben Wallace has transcended race, at least in one sense: He's been able to make white America feel comfortable with him in a way that Iverson never could. As racist as it really is, the fact that white people can walk around the Palace in fake black Afro wigs without black folks taking offense is a testament to the power of racial "go beyond" that he has single-handedly generated. And he's done this without change or compromise of who he is and what he stands for.
He is he. Unashamed and unapologetic about who he is. But it's what he's come to stand for that has become more essential.