Archive for Monday, November 27, 2006

Wallace’s head games shouldn’t be tolerated

November 27, 2006


Yes, it's a silly rule. Though I can't say I've seen many $15 million per year executives coming to work wearing headbands.

No, NBA players are not your average working stiffs. Or even working elite. Not at about four hours per day.

But Ben Wallace's bold act of defiance, ignoring Saturday in New York the team's long-held rule against wearing headbands, may be a defining moment for the future of these Bulls, who seemed to offer so much promise with the free-agent signing last summer of Wallace, the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year.

The Bulls at least need to fine Wallace, if not suspend him, for an egregious act that is way beyond a simple stunt of dissent or petulance.

And I'm not overdramatizing here.

Wallace, the second-highest paid Bull after Michael Jordan in franchise history, essentially challenged the organization that did so much for him while he still does so little for them and, in effect, organized an insurrection against its coach. It's not a matter of slapping down a misbehaving player or trying to show who's in charge. It's a challenge to the very functioning of a team by what is supposed to be its premier player.

And perhaps if Wallace were playing like the premier center the Bulls expected, this may not have been an issue. The first time I heard "Life is not fair" was from former President Jimmy Carter. Another great philosopher, Phil Jackson, explained the "pretty girl gets kissed."

There are different rules for different people and we see it all the time. There were different rules for Jordan, and it gave me a good book title. There are different rules for LeBron James, Shaq and Kobe Bryant. But you better produce.

Wallace hasn't. Actually, the Bulls have played better lately with Malik Allen.

So Wallace, benched Friday in Philadelphia and finishing with zero rebounds the first time he started a game in his NBA career, apparently decided to show coach Scott Skiles who was really important.

It was the essence of selfish behavior and contrary to the team ethic Wallace is said to endorse.

Sure, you run the risk of further alienating Wallace. What then? Is he going to retire? I wondered two weeks ago watching his play whether he had.

There's plenty of opportunity for Wallace to be the player the Bulls thought they were getting and the team to have an excellent season. Wallace always played best with a chip on his shoulder, when he felt least respected and would show everyone. What better chance than now?

Because if the Bulls don't stand up and establish the authority of the team, this has the potential for an ugly resolution.

This, by the way, is nothing new for Wallace.

Just last season, he refused to enter a game late in the season because he was angry at something, usually a lack of a role in the offense. That's laughable because he shoots like an injured ostrich. I always felt the Pistons' playoff meltdown started when he openly challenged the authority of new coach Flip Saunders late in the regular season by declining to enter a game. In the playoffs, it was a virtual team rebellion.

Before this season started, Wallace in an ESPN interview blasted Saunders and commended all his former coaches, bringing giggles to all as Wallace had previously blasted them. He's an oversensitive, easily embarrassed, remote soul. I noticed him seeming to limp during the Friday game when he was benched and he was off for some MRI Sunday. His history, despite the supposed "warrior" mentality, is to come up with some small injury when things aren't going well to explain the issue, usually poor free-throw shooting.

Pistons players say Wallace has burned up the cell-phone satellites to them in recent weeks complaining about the Bulls, Skiles and signing in Chicago.

My guess is the Bulls would gladly take the money and send him back.

But they're stuck with one another and will have to make the best of it. And they can make it good.

Every organization has rules. Many are stupid. If Wallace didn't like them, he could have talked to the coach or general manager. They always seem available. He could have had his agent negotiate a clause. He could have done almost anything but what he did, which is akin to organizing a mutiny against the coach. He slapped the face of the organization that has been the best to him in his career, one that has recognized his value and taken care of his family and their families for generations to come.

Ben, all they're asking is that you take the basketball seriously for a few hours a day.


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