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Rasheed Wallace: Reborn?

Rasheed Wallace Reacts (Photo By Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)

The iconic hair. The infuriating day-to-day lassiez-faire attitude that belies the great performances. The unending indifference toward coaches, management, and the media.  The bipolarity of a loner who can still be counted on to carry a team at times.

Am I speaking of Manny Ramirez? One very well could be but the one I speak of is the rejuvenated, no scratch that, the reborn Rasheed Wallace, whose transformation from regular season roadkill to playoff warrior is the second greatest resurrection on record.

Regular Season Woes

Wallace approached the regular season with all the joy of a guy who cleans port-o-johns for a living. He was clearly going through the motions. Save for his league leading 17 technical fouls, and you could have missed him if you blinked.

Seeming to encapsulate the entire attitude of the Celtics team, especially in the second half of the regular season, Wallace played so poorly and so dispassionately that objective observers failed to see how he and his mates could simply “turn in on” during the playoffs.

It was off for so long we thought it was broken. For example, a career .471 shooter coming into the season, Wallace lollygagged his way to a scintillating .409 shooting percentage for the Celtics.

Okay, so maybe he wasn’t brought to Boston to work the low block. He was out of position for put backs and other garbage baskets. His ken is beyond the three-point line, you say?

If any small children are reading this, please click on another page as the following numbers are only for mature audiences.

From his debut with the Washington Wizards, nee Bullets (why did they change the greatest team name in sports history?), in the 95-96 season until the commencement of the 08-09 campaign, Wallace drained 34.6% of his threes. This year? 28.3%. Ugh.

Quite a contradiction.

Candy or Boredom?

A couple of years ago, Lamar Odom was maddening the Los Angeles Lakers’ with his inconsistent play during games. A doctor discovered it was because of Odom’s habit of constantly eating candy. Right up until game time he was sucking down Sour Patch Kids and Twizzlers.

The result was he would have a sugar crash in the middle of the game, affecting his motor and cognitive skills. You kind of need both of those working in concert to play basketball at the highest level.

I often thought of Odom while watching Wallace this year. Wallace would float aimlessly for long stretches. Take lazy, contested shots. Swipe nonchalantly at ball handlers. Go for blocks from behind rather than get a body on his man and D him up.

It was as if Wallace’s head was somewhere else, but his body had enough of the muscle memory to comport himself with a little basketball dignity, just like Odom.

What made this player, someone whose game was built on being fiery, loud and over the top at times, lose all his expeditiousness?

Was he inhaling Gobstoppers and Fun Dip during timeouts? Or was he just, you know, bored?

I think the regular season just bored Rasheed Wallace which, when you think about it, is unacceptable. In any other workplace in America, Wallace would have been disciplined and possibly terminated. He was the Celtics very own Homer Simpson this season. He didn’t like his job, so he didn’t quit, he just went in a half-assed it until the playoffs.

On the other hand, it is quite remarkable that a man can be so stubborn, if that is the word. In the face of rabid fans, talk-radio blowhards, a screaming, gravelly voiced Doc Rivers and constant print media pressure, Wallace would not yield. He was in second gear and would not kick into third or fourth until the playoffs.

The mere fact that he could pull this off without inciting a full-scale clubhouse riot at some point speaks to his stature in the locker room. But there had to be moments when Kevin Garnett and/or Paul Pierce gave Wallace a sideways glance and thought to themselves “this is the guy we put on a recruiting push for?”

Rasheed Being Manny

Wallace has “The White Spot.”  Manny had his unending Dreadlocks. Wallace is most famous for his “both teams played hard” utterances. Manny will always have the “Manny Being Manny” tag following him.

Unique and iconic, these men don’t just march to the beat of a different drummer, they have their own multifaceted percussion sections. Congas, djembes, triangles, guiros, trash can lids, those bucket kids outside the TD Garden. It’s a whole different rhythm pattern with these two.

As is normal with eccentrics, these two seemed to get more quirky with each passing year. For Wallace, his greatest “Sheed” moment, as far as I’m concerned, is when he handed out WWE-style championship belts to his Detroit Pistons teammates after winning the 2004 NBA championship.

This was classic Wallace.  He hands out individual awards to the entire team. Kind of sends a mixed message, no? Deep down, I think Wallace just wanted a belt for himself.

Manny was the ultimate loner on the Red Sox. Has ever man so goofy and lackadaisical-looking been so praised for his work ethic and dedication?

Wallace and Manny are two peas in a pod. Contradictions, they are, and in today’s label-everything, black-and-white society, they get branded as weirdos and malcontents in the public consciousness.

Public figures are rarely what we want them to be. The reality is often not as fun as the perception. With Manny and Wallace, though, the reality is the perception. They are mysterious and sometimes fun-loving and sometimes angry and altogether great at what they do. I’ll take these two over a prepackaged Joe Mauer or LeBron James everyday of the week.

Playoffs?

You want to talk about playoffs? Wallace obviously does, as he has thrived coming off the bench. The Celtics were supposed to beat the Miami Heat, but they were most definitely were not supposed to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, right Tim Donaghy?

The two biggest reasons the Celtics not only beat the Heat but are now up two games to none against the Orlando Magic has been a re-commitment to defense and the improved play of the bench. Wallace has led the bench charge.

He upped his three-point accuracy to .429 in the playoffs, which would have been good for a top ten finish in the regular season, and has even begun, gasp, rebounding in the playoffs.

At this point in his career, the bright lights of a deep playoff run may be the only thing that can properly motivate Wallace. Basketball players are human after all, no matter how many lame, embarrassing and downright uncomfortable halftime Superman skits ABC produces.

Remember the way the 07-08 Celtics started their playoff run? They basically played the Atlanta Hawks as if they were a team of regular season Rasheed Wallaces. It took the team one round, much the same it took Wallace the regular season, to kick into sniper mode and start picking teams off.

The mysteries of human motivation and behavior are beyond me, but it seems that once players feel they are backed against a wall, they strike out. Wallace knew that the Celtics were making the playoffs and that they were just as good as any other team in the Eastern Conference. If that is the case, why kill yourself in the regular season?

The 07-08 Celtics needed to get backed into a wall by the Hawks before they properly learned how to strike back at a team. Ray Allen’s performance in that Hawks series can be compared to Wallace’s entire regular season. The main difference is that Ray Allen was, you know, trying, while Wallace was just time-biding.

It is almost as if Wallace needed to create the obstacle of a thrown away regular season to produce an air of tension. Wallace seems to thrive in chaos on the basketball court, which is quite different than his home life, as he is a dedicated family man with four children. Contradiction.

The Celtics were not going anywhere in these playoffs without Rasheed Wallace. He is the second unit ballast and the other bench players follow his lead. It is not a coincidence that Glen Davis and Tony Allen have been submitting stellar performances off the bench right alongside Wallace.

Wallace is a dynamic character and a leader when he wants to be. A leader who marches to his own rhythm section?

Contradiction.

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