People are often known to have short memories in the world of sports. Players and coaches alike are given second chances repeatedly, their past blemishes swept under the rug in hopes that the newest opportunity will wash away whatever sour history might exist. This theory was proved to the highest degree on Friday when the Pistons inked aging warrior Ben Wallace to a one-year contract. All the talk revolved around Wallace's coming to the team as more of a "leader" than an actual on-court contributor. Correct me if I'm wrong here, but isn't Ben Wallace the same guy that sulked and whined his way through his final season in Detroit? The same guy that shocked the basketball world by pulling the ultimate prima donna move, refusing to reenter a game despite his coach's repeated requests? And he is being invited back to the franchise for his abilities as a "leader"?? While we're at it, why not bring back Oliver Miller to head up the team's conditioning sessions? It makes about as much sense.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not under any grand illusion that the Pistons really had much room to operate with here. I am aware that with only scraps left to dole out to remaining free agents, potential All-Stars were not being lured here at this point in the summer. But would it have killed Joe D to think just a tad outside of the box on this one, instead of just making an awkward attempt to relive past glories? Ben undoubtedly had his days as an elite NBA player. He came to Detroit, found his niche, and proceeded to wreak havoc on the boards and in the paint for the next 5-6 years. But to nobody's surprise, when Ben's odometer started to escalate, his game began to deteriorate. His success was entirely predicated on strength, energy, and athleticism. His basketball skills were non-existent, and thus his value diminished greatly with age more so than almost any other athlete in sports. There is no shame in that. It happens. Being an intimidating presence on the inside as an undersized center is not like being a crafty lefthanded hurler. You can't just keep doing the same things into your mid-40's with guile and grit. This past year in Cleveland, Ben was relegated to the role of 'cheerleader,' put mostly in charge of blow-drying Anderson Varejao's hair and massaging Zydrunas Ilgauskus' monster co...feet. It's the kind of year a guy has and then decides, "Yup, that's it for me. Time to hang it up." If we could only be so lucky.
Instead Ben will grace us with his presence one final time. With him he brings his famously handicapped free throw stroke, which enabled him to somehow play 176 playoff minutes last spring without ever once connecting from the charity stripe (0 for 6 total). He will be looked to only for insurance in the case of injury or foul trouble to one of the main big guys. But on a team where those "main" bigs are the unspectacular Kwame Brown and Chris Wilcox, chances are Ben will spend more time on the floor than people would be led to believe. This is not a good thing.
I look at the Raptors last season as an example. They had some injuries and issues with their frontcourt, so they went out and brought in former college superstar and NBDL standout Pops Mensah-Bonsu. They weren't trying to set the world on fire with that signing, but as a team looking for a spark or occasional scoring burst from an 11th or 12th guy, the youthful jumping jack Bonsu made perfect sense. He came in, impacted some games with his frenetic activity, and found a role with the squad. But the Pistons, in a similar situation this off-season, took the lazy route, and simply flipped through the archives of their media guide and settled on Big Ben.
It's not the biggest deal in the world, and one not likely to help or cost the Pistons a shot an NBA title. But it is a move that lacks any creativity, and one that makes you question the qualities that Dumars and his front office value. Wallace came to the Pistons as a tireless worker, selfless to the bone. He left the team as a malcontent, someone that was unable to maintain his team-first attitude when the personal accolades started piling up. That all seems to be forgotten, though. We thought we'd seen the last of him, but we were wrong. So whether we like it or not, old #3 will be wearing the Piston colors one final time.
But don't think the welcome mat is going to be rolled out upon arrival, Ben. And as far as the extra bedroom is concerned, it's yours. Just don't expect any fluffy pillows or premium cable. Those are for preferred guests only, and frankly, your five minutes were up about five years ago. Just do us all a favor and make this last visit a short and painless one.
Oh, and one more thing before I forget. Stay away from the free throw line, too... you're not welcome there, either.
Finally caught the 2000 Chris O' Donnell blockbuster Vertical Limit over the weekend. I'd never been too keen on seeing the movie over the years, but since it ranks in the Top-5 of my Dad's most-watched movies of all-time, I had to give in at some point (Rest of his list includes Striking Distance, Crimson Tide, Hollow Man, School Ties, The American President and semi-bizarre but completely respectable bonus entry The Devil Wears Prada). Aside from the opening sequence being ripped directly from the frames of Cliffhanger, it was an enjoyable ride with a solid cast. Really, anytime a movie centers around mountain climbing, you're in for a pretty entertaining 120 minutes (See aforementioned Cliffhanger, and forever underrated K2).
It was a bit odd seeing Billy Paxton in the role of the villain, though. He's usually likable and charming, but in Limit, he plays a conniving industrialist who will stop at nothing to save his own life (even at the expense of others). Despite the ugly character he portrays, I'm still inclined to give the edge to Paxton in the ongoing worldwide debate, "At gunpoint...Pullman or Paxton...who you sharin' a pizza with"? He just brings a confidence to the screen that says, "Like me or don't like me, I'm gonna be Paxton. Take it or leave it." I know I wasn't the only one watching Titanic and thinking, "Couldn't we use a little less Leo and a little more Pax"? With Pullman on the other hand, you always get the feeling that he's trying to appeal to everyone instead of just doing what he wants to do. I always felt Pullman was miscast in Independence Day. Here you needed a leader, someone willing to fight one of the most dangerous alien attacks in our history, and the man we are all supposed to look to is the bumbling, hair never out of place, Pullman? Gimme a break.
After an early Sunday morning wake-up/tease with playoff softball games being rained out, it was a must-nap situation when 11:30/12:00 rolled around. When I finally came to, I flicked on the Tigers, and with bleary eyes, saw a mysterious lefty working in the 6th against the Twins. My mind started wandering, and after confirming that the man was not quite unsightly enough to be Bobby Seay and was definitely not Asian enough to be Fu-Te Ni, I realized, "Ahhh, they must have taken Robertson off the DL. Didn't even realize he'd come out of the coma." But then I saw this pitcher repeatedly starting off hitters with first pitch strikes. Doesn't sound like Nate. Sometimes he would even throw two in a row. Hmm, getting colder. The delivery looked smooth and the velocity was there as well. Yeah, I am definitely mistaken. So I reached for my glasses, the screen came into focus, and I figured out why the pitcher looked so professional. It was newest Tiger southpaw Jarrod Washburn on the mound. My momentary loss of focus and memory caused me to have this wild delusion that Nate Robertson was not only alive, but also throwing actual strikes to big league hitters while simultaneously warding off the persistent Rice Pilaf Demons that have been harassing him for the last two years. Let's just say it wasn't the most coherent five minutes in the history of the High Socks Legend.
Is there any job in the world based more on appearance than that of the "Cart Lady" at the golf course? I'm pretty sure I've never seen an unattractive person holding down this position. If you get knocked out of the Miss America competition, do you just drive directly to the nearest golf course and start serving Snickers bars and Arizona Iced Teas? Is there even an interview or application process? Or do you just show up in the manager's office one day wearing a yellow polo, khaki shorts, and a big smile? Now don't get me wrong. Maybe there have been some brilliant cart girls over the years, and they also tend to be some of the friendliest human beings on the planet, but I'm just saying that intelligence doesn't seem to be the number one priority when selecting these candidates. Not that I'm complaining, though...
Other Important Thoughts
- I think I'll step up and say what everyone else is thinking about those 15,000 Lions fans that attended the first "open practice" at Ford Field. It doesn't have to be today, it doesn't have to be tomorrow, but at some point, all of you who were there are going to need to get a life. Seriously, there had to have been a better way to spend your Saturday afternoon. Charity work...cleaning out your garage...spit-shining your driveway. All better options than what you did by waiting in the rain for 2-3 hours, then trudging inside soaking wet so you could watch a hapless team conduct a glorified stretching exhibition while downing a lukewarm can of Milwaukee's Best that you managed to sneak in the side pocket of your oversized camouflage hunting jacket...you lush.
- You would think that by now, after years upon years of being the self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports, ESPN would be well aware of their target demographic. Why then, does Neil Everett continue to make Jonas' Brothers references on a near-nightly basis? Does he really think there are that many 11-year old girls watching the 2 AM SportsCenter, or is he just trying to tell us viewers something about himself? Either way, it's making me very uncomfortable...
"Oh, come on now. Don't be silly, Yogurt Covered Pretzels...the pleasure is all mine." The High Socks Legend can be reached at email@example.com