In the era of stretch 4’s, stretch 5’s and Draymond Green jumping tip in the Finals, it’s fair to say today’s NBA places a premium on shooting. There will always be minutes, of course, for legitimate big guys, but for everyone under 6’10” the message has been loud and clear for years: learn how to shoot 3’s if you want to play. Gerald “Crash” Wallace, owner and curator of a .312 career 3 point percentage, has run against that grain since he entered the league. Standing 6’7” and built more like Carl Lewis than Karl Malone, Wallace was crazy enough to stake a claim to the restricted area and fierce enough to hold his own for over a decade.
Now 33, Wallace’s NBA story has likely been written. If it has, the last chapter will be titled Hinkied: Waived by Philadelphia, after he was cut loose yesterday. Unfortunately, he became part of the modern phenomenon where a “player” becomes less known for playing and more known for his contract. Hinkie, he who seeks everything other than functioning athletes, brought in Wallace – or more accurately, Wallace’s expiring $10m contract – on July 31st. He was dismissed without ever playing a minute for the Sixers.
A rapid decline followed by a protracted end is the best way to describe the last few years for Wallace. From age 27 to 30, he fell from All-Star to one of the worst everyday starters in basketball. From thereon, he’s been little but trade fodder. The arc of Wallace’s career is rare, much like his game.
Once the fourth ranked high school player in America, Wallace declared for the draft after one underwhelming season at Alabama. He was selected 25th by the Kings in 2001, joining the Adelman-led group who were among the West’s elite teams. There wasn’t much time for Wallace behind Peja and Webber at either forward spot, and aside from the occasional flash of his otherworldly vertical leap, he barely registered on the NBA radar. A 2004 trade to the moribund Bobcats provided minutes and it’s there where “Crash” was born.
The Admiral, Hakeem and Wallace make up the list of players to average 2 blocks and 2 steals per game for an entire regular season.
Wallace was a composite of ferocity, nose for the ball, world class athleticism and remarkable courage. He had an Iversonian frequency of landing in a heap on the floor, only in his case, it was usually chasing a rebound or flying for a block rather than trying to score. That said, he attacked the rim with abandon, and managed to average between 15 and 19.5 points a night in four of his five Bobcat seasons. His prime, not surprisingly, coincided with the first playoff appearance in franchise history.
Like the box-scores of his heyday, Wallace’s highlights are likely lost in most fans’ memories amongst a sea of Sources: Wallace likely to be traded headlines. Charlotte, pre-Jordan involvement, played even further out of the national spotlight than they do now. A small audience – smaller than it deserved – saw what happens when physical gifts meet a “refuse to be outworked” approach to the game.
Wallace won’t be remembered as a player who was part of the movement of his time, he’ll be remembered as one who succeeded against it.