In 2004, the Detroit Pistons embarrassed the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. The Pistons defeated superstars Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal with defense as Hall of Famer Ben Wallace helped Detroit hold LA to 80 or fewer points in three of its five games.
After he helped win the third championship in franchise history, Wallace’s love of another sport, professional wrestling, came into play as he and his teammates were the recipients of a special gift from Rasheed Wallace.
Ben Wallace has an obsession with professional wrestling
Wallace, a four-time Defensive Player of the Year, has a reputation as one of the toughest players in NBA history. Coming from little-known Virginia Union University, Wallace’s career as a defensive wizard and rebounding machine helped him become the first undrafted player to get elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
The signature toughness the 6-foot-7 Wallace carries with him can be traced back to his early days of watching the WWE.
“I’ve been a fan a long time,” Wallace told Sports Illustrated shortly after Detroit won the championship. “‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan, Andre the Giant, King Kong Bundy. I go back. I’ve got an exact replica of the WWE championship belt, because every heavyweight needs his own belt.”
Wallace’s love of wrestling began as a kid and continued as an adult. In fact, in his final NBA season in 2012, Wallace was giving analysis and predictions for what would transpire at Wrestlemania 28.
Rasheed Wallace gifted Ben Wallace and his teammates custom title belts
Just before Detroit’s regular-season opener after their title year, Rasheed Wallace surprised nine current Pistons teammates who were on the championship team with black, gold-plated wrestling belts. Inscribed were the words, “World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion.” When the Pistons accepted their championship rings on opening night, they were wearing the belts over their warm-ups.
Additionally, each belt had a personalized nickname. Point guard Chauncey Billups had a belt with the word “Smooth.” Shooting guard Richard “Rip” Hamilton wore a belt with “Rip City” on it. Ben Wallace, meanwhile, had “The Body” on his, giving some insight into what his wrestling name would be.
“That idea was old,” Rasheed Wallace told reporters after giving out the belts. “I had that idea when I first came into the league.”
Rasheed even gifted belts to members of the Pistons’ training staff and front office. It was a lavish gift to go along with championship rings that, at the time, were some of the largest title rings ever made.
Wallace’s toughness summarized the Detroit Pistons
Wallace’s Hall of Fame career was defined by his tenacity and work ethic. Whether his love of wrestling is the primary reason for that is unknown. But his tough-as-nails approach spread to his fellow teammates.
Detroit’s defense in the 2003-04 season allowed an average of 84.3 points per game, the second-fewest in the NBA. At one point, the Pistons went five straight games without allowing their opponent to score 70 or more points. To this day, members of that team believe their defensive ability would make them a threat in a fast-paced, high-scoring NBA.
“Man, listen. The way the game is today … everybody could shoot, except for Ben,” Billups said to the Pistons crowd during a title team reunion. “It’s a shooting game. All we do is play faster. You know we’re still gonna play D. It’s a switching league, we’d just switch everything. It would be an easy transition for us.”
Whether it’s on the court or in the ring, teams may still be a little hesitant to go up against Ben “The Body” Wallace and the rest of his old Detroit Pistons teammates.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.
[Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Ben Wallace, not Rasheed Wallace, gave championship belts to his teammates.]