Beard: Ben Wallace, Chris Webber waited much too long for Hall calls

Detroit News

Sometimes the easy answer is the right answer.

There doesn’t need to be a lot of quibbling or debating about minor points. The first thought that pops in your head generally is the correct one. Then, there are those who argue for the sake of arguing or want to delve deep into the weeds for subtle nuances.

When picking players for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the selections don’t always have to go through a rigorous discussion. Most of the time, when a name is mentioned, people know whether that player is worthy of the honor.

That’s why it was so puzzling when year after year, Ben Wallace and Chris Webber were passed over. That oversight was rectified Sunday, when both were announced as part of the 2021 Hall of Fame class that will be inducted in September.

Wallace, the heart and soul of the Pistons’ 2004 championship team, rarely seems to get the respect that he rightly deserves. He was listed at 6-foot-9 — a generous measure, in the true way that NBA rosters — but he played much bigger than that. His physical tools and his heart made up for any shortfalls he had, including his big series guarding Shaquille O’Neal in his prime.

Wallace was a small-ball center before there were small-ball centers. He was a taller, stronger Dennis Rodman who cared more about getting his hands dirty with defense and wrangling rebounds than scoring or shooting 3-pointers.

It’s true that Wallace never averaged in double figures in scoring for a season in his career, and that muddied the waters for his candidacy for the Hall of Fame. Many who judge such things lean on gaudy numbers and other achievements more than what’s easy to see with their own eyes.

Detroiters know what Ben Wallace is — and it’s more than an afro or cornrows or anything else. He’s a self-made player who started at Virginia Union in Division II and worked his way to the Hall of Fame, the first undrafted player to do so. He’s the player that parents could point to and tell their kids: “You don’t have to be a superstar in high school or college to make it in the NBA. You just have to work hard.”

Wallace always did that. He never shortchanged the fans in that regard. He was defensive player of the year four times, on the all-defensive team six times and led the league in rebounding twice and in blocks once.

That’s at a time when there were many other dominant big men, including O’Neal, in the league, and Wallace simply outworked and outhustled them.

It was always there in plain sight.

Webber had a different road to the Hall of Fame. He always was anointed, even going back to middle school, when his name was bandied about before he even stepped foot into Detroit Country Day.

He was a three-time state champion at Country Day and went to back-to-back championship games in his two seasons at Michigan. Webber was the No. 1 overall pick and seemed destined for greatness in the NBA.

He didn’t disappoint.

In his years with the Sacramento Kings, they were on the cusp of breaking through and toppling the Los Angeles Lakers themselves. A bounce here, a call there, and things could have turned out a lot different than they did.

Still, Webber provided the numbers that the selectors like: 20.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists in his career. He was the prototypical mobile power forward and he helped change the expectations from that position.

Somehow, Webber had to wait eight years before he gained entry into the Hall of Fame. Sometimes, it’s the lack of a championship that keeps some worthy candidates from getting in earlier. Sometimes, it’s other things off the court.

It’s hard to mention Webber without mentioning the Ed Martin scandal at Michigan. That’s a scarlet letter that he has to wear for the rest of his career.

In September, he’ll be able to don a Hall of Fame jacket over it.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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