Hide Ya Face

If you've not yet done so, please read Shoals's nearly perfect articulation of Ron Artest. As I think about the piece, I like it even more for having been posted during the nation's birthday weekend. Seems like a subtle, even if unintended, ribbing for all of Ron's self-righteous detractors. He enjoys freedom and opportunity in this land, too.

Also, please check the latest recommendations posted in the Amazon widget along the right side of this page. Clicking through means good things for FD, for the products endorsed, for Amazon, and for your karma. Just clicking through before buying something else is helpful. The karma bit's been verified by science, by the way.

If ever there were a summer made for Rasheed Wallace, this is the one. The draft yielded few sure vessels of transformation, and free agency has mostly offered existing contenders new resources for strengthening their positions. (Unless folks are expecting exuberant Turkish people to help push Toronto to the top of the Eastern Conference.) Should it actually arrive, enabled by The 2010 Free Agent Class and a coming draft haul expected to greatly exceed that from last month, the much-discussed New League Order remains at least a year away. For the time being, teams with stars, systems, and identities all firmly established are jostling to find the element that will deliver a championship. Rasheed Wallace is playing with house money as these squads gamble.

We already know that history is likely to speak ill of Roscoe. It will harp upon his volatility. It will almost jeer as it calls him an underachiever. And it surely will subsume his contribution to Detroit's recent championship, bundling it with "however" and "if only" while emphasizing the technicals and the meltdowns. Rasheed will go out as grousing, mercurial, unreliable. His enormous talents will only damn him, as the critics, whose voices appear to ring loudest, cite his gifts as evidence of the disappointment he's authored. We need not even wait for validation; already, the historic Portland collapse from 2000 is an iconic moment for all the wrong reasons. A family man, a concerned member of his communities, a thoughtful fellow--makes no difference. Rasheed is nonetheless cast as the embodiment of failure, a source of the Jail Blazer malignancy and a paradigm of the problematic NBA player.

Rasheed's story would be different had he won more, or, in the alternative, had he been a lesser talent. Fair or not, he has been crushed by falling bricks from the crumbling foundation laid by expectation. The popular story of Roscoe never cares to take up trifling details such as his natural deference, or his preference for serving as an equal and not a star. Our sports culture so thoroughly disdains "wasting" talent that Rasheed Wallace's career is almost wholly anathema. People see his gorgeous jump shot, his facility near the basket, his technical proficiency and deride him as disinterested, insincere, or straight up idiotic. They observe that he's among the most gifted on-ball post defenders in memory, or they recognize his basketball intelligence, and they seethe that he's not nearly effective enough. For years, Wallace was supposed to mature into a leading man on par with players who share his physical prowess. Players like Timothy D and Kevin. Yet, he didn't, and the convention that reviles Wallace never allowed for a reconciliation of Roscoe's game and the ways we watch basketball. So Rasheed has enjoyed most-hated-on status.

Were sports dialogue less rigid, were attitudes more malleable, Rasheed may have had a chance. Rather than damning Wallace for what he isn't, we might have instead appreciated the intrinsic value of a diverse and refined skill set. Roscoe is fun to watch. Further, Roscoe hints at new possibilities, perhaps more than any other big man. Kevin Garnett, for instance, is many things, but a reliable post scorer and a three-point threat are not among them. Dirk Nowitzki, too, is many things, but an athletic and crafty defender has yet to appear on anyone's scouting report. Somehow, Rasheed doesn't get credit for what he is, nor, more rhapsodically, for what he's shown someone else might be. Seeing him score from the outside before drop-stepping and fading his way to more points on the next possession fairly invites the question of why he doesn't score more often, or more reliably. That said, more creative sports thinking could perhaps allow this inquiry to exist alongside greater admiration for Roscoe's game. Only, that's not how the world works. The emphasis, instead, is on how far he remains relative to where he is supposed to be.

Rasheed bears some blame, of course. His flare-ups have been counterproductive, and shameful moments like Game 6 against Cleveland three seasons ago strike at whatever sympathy his personality, history, and style encourage. Be moody. Reject that talent carries with it a mandate to aspire for greatness. But don't flout obligations, or punk out in such explosive, consuming fashion. Boorishness leads to anger. In that way, Roscoe has invited some scorn.

Miscreant or misunderstood, fairly criticized or unfairly villified, Sheed is most certainly not a superstar. He would likely be first to say so. He is, instead, a highly skilled complementary player, albeit one whose natural gifts are vast but not focused in the way that separates Kobe from Pietrus. As noted, this is the summer of Wallace's dreams.

On Wednesday, Roscoe officially signs up with the Celtics. The idea is that a healthy Kevin and the improved frontcourt depth which Rasheed creates will elevate the Celtics above the Cavs and the Magic, to say nothing of the Lakers. Rasheed will arrive to find a team with a leader (or three), a pecking order, a coach who juggles personalities, and a system. He is being added as Rasheed Wallace, Missing Link, not Rasheed Wallace, Primary Element. When he arrived in Detroit, despite assuming a role in the starting lineup and immediately becoming a prominent figure, he enjoyed similar luxuries. The Pistons had two guards who ran the offense and the team. The Pistons had a defensive anchor whose effort forbade anyone else from taking plays off. And--without rendering judgment about his disposition or playing the right way--the Pistons had LB, in all his lugubrious glory. (OK, so I judged his personality a little.)

In the D, Sheed wasn't asked to be "the leader" and wasn't asked to be "the guy" in a basketball sense. He was asked to assimilate--something he does well, as he's quite bright--and find ways to use his enormous ability in complementary fashion. Without compromising who he is, Wallace helped the Pistons win one title and come within a bad fourth quarter of repeating the next year. Perhaps it wasn't coincidental that the Pistons fell off as the coach left, the defensive anchor left, the point guard started to wear down, and more was quickly demanded from Rasheed. Judge Wallace as you will, but teams commonly cannot succeed when its players are asked to do things beyond their capabilities and comfort zones. That doesn't excuse untimely technicals, but it does, as usual, answer the more thoughtless dismissals that Wallace simply didn't fulfill his potential. For a time, he did. When those expectations grew outsized, he couldn't meet them and the team withered.

Awarding the 2010 championship to Boston on July 6th would be a little silly. Let's not do that. But let's acknowledge that Boston may be adding the most gifted role player of all time. And there is no intended shame in that distinction: as just noted, Roscoe knows the role he wants and has proven that he can acquit himself well when properly cast. In Boston, he will be afforded the opportunity to again demonstrate what he does, and how he best does it. A championship is not likely to undo all of the harm his reputation and legacy have incurred, but he might be able to affix some lasting repairs.

The question of temperament can't be avoided, so we should dwell upon that for a moment. Rasheed erupts sometimes. It will inevitably happen in Boston. (Can't wait to see how Boston treats such a flamboyant, on-court-angry black man if things don't go as planned.) But, is there anyone who credibly can argue that Sheed's temper will be a problem? When he has to walk back to a huddle which features a man who matched Kobe's playoff intensity while in street clothes, and probably while seated on his couch last month? Kevin Garnett will not suffer fools, distractions, or undermining tantrums. If anything, the rest of the league should be terrified. Combining Rasheed's indignation and KG's fury might resemble what would happen if the sun made a nuclear weapon and detonated it inside of a 100 supernovas. The entire Warriors backcourt could be blown off the court by the force of the energy. Also, if you can buy stock in something like "'motherfucker' being uttered in Boston," now might be a good time.

We are at a moment when the thrust of NBA activity centers around filling in at the margins and finding that last required piece. Sheed's been here, waiting for us to acknowledge this need. Everyone should let him do it.

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At 7/06/2009 1:12 PM, Blogger Alexander J said...

JOEY! How did your time at U of M effect your fandom? It does seem like Philly's finest in 2004 could do all the things you and us all have seen (championship, ECF run for the ages). What will make this incarnation different? Rasheed is kind of an oil man; when he strikes it rich, he knows what to do with the black gold. How does J.R. Giddens figure in to this?

For me, 4 years at a small liberal arts college outside of Cleveland amounted to some tremendous opportunities to talk with locals about their forlorn love of the Cavs, along with a sort of hubris that can only come with a global star that was bron (sic?) in Akron.

At 7/06/2009 1:29 PM, Blogger Alexander J said...

Addendum: JOEY!

At 7/06/2009 1:48 PM, Blogger tray said...

"The popular story of Roscoe never cares to take up trifling details such as his natural deference, or his preference for serving as an equal and not a star."

No, the popular story is virtually nothing but those 'details' (haha, sarcasm!); it just acknowledges, correctly so, that when you have star talent (and others around you don't, or have less), deference is a form of selfishness, a withholding of what you've got so that less responsibility might rest on your shoulders (or so you can avoid the drudgery of getting beat up in the paint all the time, there are many reasons for these sorts of failings). See Chris Webber. And as for admiring his game, and allowing such admiration to exist alongside one's criticisms of his failures, play the right way fanatics like myself wouldn't be so critical of him if we didn't admire his game. We just think he should take advantage of his post skills more than 3 times a night. That said, as a pure talent he's not what he used to be anyway, so aside from the travesty of his late-career turn into a poor man's Robert Horry (FORTY-FOUR PERCENT of his shots from three this year, and Iversonian field goal percentages for the last five seasons? You can't be serious!), he's less of a disappointment than he was in the Blazers years. That said, on a slightly personal note, my poor opinion of Rasheed as a player - as a person he's a likable guy - is colored by his losing to my high-school team at a time when our best players were low-D1 recruits. Granted, our coach is something of a minor genius, having engineered wins against the Gerald Henderson-Wayne Ellington Episcopal team and the Mustafa Shakur FC team, back when Shakur was the No. 1 PG in the nation, above Chris Paul, but Henderson and Ellington are one thing and Rasheed's quite another.

At 7/06/2009 1:52 PM, Blogger David Sankey said...

Brilliantly said and duly noted, but if we are to wrench the 2010 ring from Kobe's cold, dead hand... ought the Celtic's not make a strong effort now to bring back the biggest of babies? They sent Powe packing and it's clear they need to maintain frontcourt depth. I just hope they don't abandon all of the things that worked so well in '08. It wasn't strictly the superstars that brought them the title, it was as much the efforts of the overlooked and unexpected bench players as anything.

At 7/06/2009 2:00 PM, Blogger RC said...

I've always been a fan of Roscoe, even during his stint in Portland. And while his on court tantrums do take away from his likability, we all have that one friend who's just an asshole.

At 7/06/2009 2:18 PM, Blogger Croz said...

I'm predisposed to love Rasheed as a player, since I am a UNC fan and attended a game at the Dean Dome and he threw down an unholy backboard rattling dunk against something like East Slovenia State after I had snuck down to the lower level. Plus he vowed not to lose to Duke, and didn't. Plus apparently he was so smart that Dean only had to explain things to him once, ever, and he picked up on them instantaneously, and he's always been a fantastic teammate.

But even taking the baby blue glasses off, I love Rasheed for the way that he's emblematic of the fact that though people argue that the NBA is a niche sport, it's got more room for genuine iconoclasts than the other major American sports. Rasheed Wallace marches to the beat of his own drummer, which cuts gloriously against the grain of modern sports culture. My favorite detail of many regarding his professional career was his irritation at being selected to the All-Star game because he had a Bahamas trip planned with his family. For all the crap he gets (and got) about being moody, mercurial, and an Angry Black Man, that's about as sweet and family-oriented a statement you're going to see from a professional athlete.

Also, he should be glorified for finding his greatest expression as a role player. For such a technical-laden, oft-irritated-on-court guy, he believes in the team concept with the fierceness of a holy warrior.

At 7/06/2009 2:50 PM, Blogger Scott said...


Awesome Joey, but i think Wallace was more of an off-court leader in for Detroit. What about the possiblity of Sheed reaching his full potential as coach??

At 7/06/2009 5:20 PM, Blogger DB said...

For the life of me, I'll never understand the sheer number of verbal bouquets that get tossed in the direction of Rasheed. Analysts who can logically dissect and critique any other player or team in the Association fawn over Sheed like he invented the headband.

Look, I love watching Wallace play as much as the next fan. He's exciting and (relatively) unique in his skill set. But why should that by itself make him worthy of endless compliments and cliched "the media doesn't understand him" rationalizations?

We know this: Rasheed has averaged a 15-7-2 for his career, with a block and a steal thrown in. We also know he was a top-5 pick, that he can be a starter and key contributor to a championship contender, and that he can't be the #1 go-to guy on that contender. So, that makes him what? Andrea Bargnani with much better defense? Lamar with more visible fury? That's fine - that's a really nice player. But I don't see any eloquent odes to Bargnani, or Lamar, or even forwards with much more accomplished careers than Rasheed, like Grant Hill, Duncan, or Dirk. Why is that?

At this point in his career, as the article mentioned, Rasheed is an effective role player. I fully appreciate all the "little things" he does for a winning team, as I think most fans do. The story lines around him have been largely positive for years now (except when he, you know, gets T'ed up in crucial playoff situations). I just don't understand why his biggest supporters need more than that - why I'm not allowed to hold him to the same standards for success and accountability as I do other highly talented players.

At 7/06/2009 5:20 PM, Blogger Fat Contradiction said...

I am baffled at the pull Sheed seems still to exert on people, and stunned that such a worthy analysis can come so late after his legitimate claims on attention/affection have gone to live with a nice family upstate.

That said, great one, Joey. All of us should get such a trenchant analysis of our careers while still (nominally, anyhow) in progress.

At 7/06/2009 5:53 PM, Blogger Kellen said...

If you haven't seen any eloquent odes to Lamar, you haven't been paying attention.

At 7/07/2009 12:43 AM, Blogger Three's Company said...

Rasheed Wallace could've been the best power forward to ever play the game. EVER. As Joey pointed out and as I have said to myself for the fifteen years that I've watched the NBA, ever since I was 10, KG never built upon being a high-post mid-range shooter, and yes, Dirk isn't super athletic, but Rasheed erred in not executing his skills according to his matchups, which EXACTLY what made Jordan, Bird and LeBron (now) the Hall of Famers that they are (will be).

At 7/07/2009 9:47 AM, Blogger Dr. Conversion said...

More wrestling inspired championship belts? This is like a dream come true.

At 7/07/2009 10:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderfully-written post. Great stuff.

At 7/07/2009 2:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the east coast version of the Ariza/Artest move. In both cases I lean toward the known (Baby whipped Sheeds ass to the offensive class a bunch over the past two years), but am very excited to see how the unknown shapes up. Makes for great TV.

At 7/07/2009 3:50 PM, Blogger Joey said...

@Alex J--I enrolled at Michigan right when the Pistons were returning to the playoffs. They cast out Hill, and acquired Ben Wallace. I was a big Stackhouse fan, and I was sad when he got replaced. But my point is that the local market team was getting good, and it was exciting to closely follow an ascendant team. So I became a pretty big Detroit fan. I still feel passionately about the Stones, though I would never root for them ahead of the Brickers. The 2005 Finals was pretty awesome for me in a sick kind of way.

At 7/07/2009 6:13 PM, Blogger Bhel Atlantic said...

Joey takes Rasheed's "deference" as a given, an exogenous parameter to be celebrated, but what makes one guy more courageous than another? Back in college, the world thought (for a time) that Tim Duncan was Jon Koncak to Rasheed's Ewing, so what happened? Did he lack the inspiring role models that pushed Duncan and Garnett along?

As for DB's comment about why Rasheed gets so much love, well, this blog is all about unfulfilled potential. It's right there in the URL.

At 7/07/2009 8:46 PM, Blogger Teddy said...

Great post in general, but enough with the Boston race stuff--that's old in the Deadspin comments section, never mind here. The city embraced a championship team that played exactly zero white guys two years ago, and a non-championship team that played only one last year. Hell, they cheered Marbury more than his play merited.

If the fans get on Rasheed if he crosses the line into whiny petulance, well, people got on Danny Ainge when he did that stuff 25 years ago. To complete the analogy, I look forward to Roscoe getting a ring and then coming back to build another championship team in 2030.

At 7/08/2009 10:05 AM, Blogger PowerBall said...

"The popular story of Roscoe never cares to take up trifling PowerBall details such as his natural deference, or his preference for serving as an equal and not a star."

At 7/10/2009 12:00 AM, Blogger Jonathan said...

You really can't argue that Rasheed is undervalued or underloved by the media or popular consensus. That all changed with the Detroit title in '04.

Since then the rap on Wallace has been fair: he mostly gets (1) praise for his valuable skill set, team play and uniquely entertaining personality, while (2) on occasion others fairly remind us that one of the flaws of the NBA is that stakeholders over-praise and make excuses for petulant personalities who at times fail their franchise by eschewing basic professionalism, despite the luxury of being in one of humankind's most privileged professions.

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