AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Ben Wallace strengthened the argument
that he's one of the best defenders in NBA history on Monday.
The Detroit Pistons center became the first player to win the
Defensive Player of the Year award four times in a five-year span.
Wallace's path to defensive greatness started in White Hall,
Ala., where he said his seven older brothers forced him to learn
how to play basketball without shooting much.
"I was always told, 'You have to get loose balls and rebound or
try to get a steal because we're not going to pass the ball,'"
Wallace -- who won the award last year, in 2003 and 2002 -- and
Dikembe Mutombo are the only players in the league to be voted the
top defensive player four times. Mutombo won it in 2001, 1998, 1997
and 1995 while playing for Philadelphia, Atlanta and Denver.
Hakeem Olajuwon is among the players selected twice for the
honor since its inception in 1983.
Former Boston Celtics great Bill Russell, who will present
Wallace with the award Tuesday night before Detroit hosts Cleveland
in Game 2, is widely regarded as the No. 1 defensive player in
"I didn't get to see Russell or [Wilt] Chamberlain, but I can't
remember a guy that wreaks so much havoc of the court like Ben
does," Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars said.
"Olajuwon and Mutombo were great defenders, but they only guarded
centers. Ben can basically guard 1s [point guards] through 5s
[centers], and the closest guy I saw do that was Dennis Rodman."
Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said Wallace is arguably the top
"If he's not the best, he's got to be in the top three," Brown
With 58 of 124 first-place votes, Wallace beat out San Antonio's
Bruce Bowen and Utah's Andrei Kirilenko for his ability to defend
players ranging from Shaquille O'Neal to LeBron James.
"There's never been a player in our era that can impact the
game like Ben does defensively," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said.
"He can guard five guys on floor -- and sometimes he does it on one
Wallace guarded James at times in Detroit's 113-86 win Sunday
over the Cavs in the opener of their second-round series. James is
not surprised Wallace won the top defender award again.
"He deserves it," James said. "You have to be aggressive when
you go to the hole, because he's capable of blocking your shot or
Though Wallace is listed as a 6-foot-9, 240-pound center, he
said he's really 6-7, making his respectable matchups with O'Neal
even more impressive because he gives up six inches and about 100
This season, Wallace helped Detroit win an NBA-high and
franchise-record 64 games while being selected an All-Star for the
fourth straight year.
He ranked fourth in the NBA in rebounding (11.3), ninth in
blocks (2.2) and 10th in steals (1.78) -- the only player among the
top 10 in all three categories. The undrafted free agent from
Virginia Union became the fifth player in league history to have
100 blocks and 100 steals in six straight seasons, a list that
includes Olajuwon, Julius Erving, Sam Lacey and David Robinson.
Wallace scored 7.3 points a game this season and has not
averaged double digits in any of his 10 years in the league. Since
beginning in his career with the Washington Wizards, he has
averaged 6.6 points and made 42 percent of his free throws.
"Everybody knows I'm not on the floor because I'm great scorer
or free throw shooter," he said. "It's because I'm out there to
defend and rebound."
Despite his lack of scoring, he's been key to the Pistons'
success since he was acquired from Orlando along with Chucky Atkins
in a sign-and-trade deal for Grant Hill before the 2000-01 season.
Wallace helped Detroit advance in the playoffs in 2002 -- for the
first time since 1991 -- to the conference finals in 2003, win a
title in 2004 and get to the finals last year.
"The success we've had started when he showed up here," Dumars
said. "Make no mistake, this guy is the cornerstone of what we
And with a blue-collar game and his Afro or cornrows, his
popularity in Detroit is rivaled only by Red Wings captain Steve
Yzerman, who might retire soon.
"I want to thank the fans for cheering for me and for growing
their hair out," Wallace said with a grin.
Wallace will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, but he
and the Pistons don't plan to part ways during the offseason.
"That's obviously the No. 1 priority," Dumars said. "We look
forward to many more years of watching him here. He's earned
whatever he's due to get."