The Thin Line Between Love and Hate.

By Jerold Wells Jr.
Updated: May 9, 2005

MINNESOTA—There is a thin line between love and hate. The overwhelming sentiment known as affection for a person can be replaced by genuine dislike in an instant. The city of Portland loves it stars, and it hates those that fail her. Basketball is all they have and they take it seriously, love and hate aptly describe just how seriously. Bill Walton and Clyde Drexler will always be loved. They played the game at a high level and guided their respective Trailblazer squads to the NBA Finals.

Walton won a title and Drexler did not (with Portland) but their legacies remain; as winners, as leaders and as heroes. Rasheed Wallace is familiar with Portland’s love but it is the hate that shows how thin the line between the two emotions is.

The Detroit Pistons recently dispatched of the Philadelphia 76ers in five hard-fought contests. Before the series began the leader of the team, Rasheed, set the tone for the series, and the entire playoffs, by wearing a heavyweight championship belt to the arena. He was letting his teammates know that each and everyone of them would have to embrace a fighter’s mentality in order to emerge victorious from this years playoffs and repeat as World Champions. Some fans might suggest the Piston’s are Chauncey Billups’ team or perhaps even Richard Hamilton’s. The heart and soul is neither; it is Rasheed Wallace.

Physically, he is a case study: the basketball equivalent of a 5-tool player in baseball. He can effectively shoot and dribble, defend, rebound, and pass. His mix of post and perimeter skills on offense and his grasp of man to man as well as team defense concepts make him the consummate teammate. Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett have distinguished themselves as the premier power forwards in the league today; with Dirk Nowitzki and Amare Stoudamire closing fast, but rest assured, they all respect the game changing ability of Rasheed Wallace. They have to.

If you watched the systematic dismantling of the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals last year, the evidence of Rasheed being the most essential cog in the Detroit Pistons’ machine is easily identified. Wallace is an effective post scorer, so much so that he must be double-teamed once he gains good post-up position. Once doubled, he consistently finds other posts diving to the basket, cutting wing players, or the spot up jump shooters that materialize in the Detroit Piston’s offensive sets. ‘Sheed makes everyone on his team a better player because he compliments all of their strength’s. In pick and roll situations, the opposing post cannot cheat over to help on penetration or contest an open jump shot because Wallace is such a threat offensively. Ben Wallace and Antonio McDyess benefit in the rebounding category as Rasheed usually occupies the oppositions best rebounding forward. Defensively, Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton apply intense man-to-man pressure on the perimeter because they know Rasheed (along with Ben Wallace) is a dependable shot blocker at the basket. A unique talent touches every aspect of the game; a good teammate does the same thing.

Value is a term often misconstrued and seldom aptly applied. What is the value of a power forward more concerned with team success than individual accolades? Can you assign value to a player who displays the grit and resilience to win at all costs? Such value is observable in Portland, Oregon. At the least, their loss is observable.

Rasheed Wallace once called the Rose Garden home. He played his best years there and made many fans as well as many enemies. Critics called him a hot head and claimed his proclivity for collecting technical fouls would prevent the team from ever revisiting the glory days of the late seventies when Bill Walton graced the court and held the entire city afloat with title aspirations. Instead of embracing his passion for the game, they berated his angry tirades; where they should praised his leadership and vast skill set, they publicly flogged him for his lack of restraint. Above all, they called him a loser.

History says a corner three pointer by Sean Elliot in 1999 and then a remarkable Shaq/Kobe comeback in 2000 were the difference between ‘Sheed leading the Blazers to the NBA Finals and the harsh reality that he could never get his team out of the Western Conference side of the playoff bracket. Two scenario’s with two similar outcomes proved to be just enough to cause the floodwaters of condemnation and criticism to rush in and drive Wallace out of the Rose Garden and, eventually, drop him on the steps of the Palace at Auburn Hills. Detractors said he was not worth the trouble, that he offered more harm than positive. They figured he was replaceable. They could find another 20 point, 10-rebound performer and that this new player would be more of a bruiser, tougher in the post and more selfish. They figured he would be the new go-to guy and take them where Rasheed could not. They were wrong.

As Rasheed Wallace sits at home and awaits a match up with Jermaine O’Neal and the Indiana Pacers, his successor, Zach Randolph is recovering from a catastrophic year crammed full of disappointment. Overall team ineptitude gave way to grumblings of Zach not being a team player or possessing the drive to improve past being good into the realm of great. The truth is Zach Randolph was brought in to replace someone and he is not filling those shoes. His paycheck says “superstar” but his performance shouts otherwise. Frankly, Randolph does not do for his team what Wallace does for his. He is not the defender, the passer, or the teammate Rasheed is.

When Rasheed Wallace ends his playing days, he will be remembered as a champion. While his career numbers will pale in comparison to that of Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, or Dirk Nowitzki the role he played in winning a title in Detroit cannot be understated. His team mentality is contagious, his fierce competitiveness infectious. The Portland Trailblazers are in dire need of a leader…to bad for them he is winning titles in Detroit.