Monday , Apr , 12 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Detroit: Need for ‘Sheed

Detroit’s acquisition of Rasheed Wallace may have been the single best transaction by any team this year. Why? The Pistons were a pretty good team before Ra came to Motor City, weren’t they? They were the best defensive team in the league, even setting three league records this year in that area. They were starting to come together nicely under Coach B., aside from February’s six-game slide. They had a 34-22 record as well – not too shabby for the leastern conference.

Detroit: Need for 'SheedSo, what were they missing? In short, everything.

Pre-Rasheed, Detroit was, to use an image close to home, like a car without pistons. They looked nice and could do a few things, but they were lacking that driving force, that spirit which makes good teams great. Call it the missing ingredient. Call it the X-Factor. Call it the je ne sais quoi. The Pistons call it Rasheed.

Let’s see an example of how he has put the fire in Detroit’s belly: five games into his career in Motown, ‘Sheed gets out on the break and catches an alley-oop pass gone awry way over his left shoulder with his right and spikes it down so hard it turns the net. And one. Had that been Tayshaun Prince or Ben Wallace a fortnight earlier, it would have resulted in a few muted high-fives and a round of applause from the bench. Not with Rasheed aboard though. Dunking the ball with a primal scream he flailed his arms wildly (almost hitting the ref. in the back of the head), then stalked across the court towards the opposition’s bench, bumping chests with Chauncey Billups and the usually-composed Hamilton along the way. It was a paradigmatic instance of the passion he’ll bring to this club which, far from being a lone beacon in an otherwise dull squad, will fire up his teammates and get fans at The Palace out of their seats again.

That isn’t to say that the boys in blue were slackers before Mr. Wallace made the trip east. Far from it in fact – the blue-collar label given to the team and embraced by their advertising department was well deserved and pivotal to their success. All the hard work in the world won’t take you to the Promised Land, though – just ask Jerry Sloan. What they got in exchange for four guys whose names you might not even recognise in three years was the unbridled joy which emanates from Rasheed Wallace every time he throws down a huge dunk or sends a shot into the third row. It’s the zeal for the game which leaks from the pores of the Jerome Williamses and Caron Butlers of this league, the guys who genuinely love to play. Sure, ‘Sheed might get a little over-excited at times and end up with a tech for his inability to control his love, but, under Larry Brown, it’s unlikely the bad times will outweigh the good.

Two nights ago Tayshaun dribbled the ball from his own arc right to the rim, taking off from the dotted line and finishing with a vicious one-hander on Ilgauskas. Of course, Rasheed ended up on the court, screaming to the skies and thrashing around as if electrocuted, disregarding the cameramen and cheerleaders he was subjecting to a face full of towel. The real significance, though: to a man the bench was on its feet, their faces filled with the same joy Rasheed had evinced a few weeks previously. Some even beat him to the party, whooping and hollering to the rafters without restraint, unable to check themselves even while Prince stepped to the line. Even Coach Larry had a grin on his face.

Will the Pistons make the finals this year? Perhaps. If they do, it won’t be as a result of the team philosophy, seemingly impregnable defence or consistency from mid-range. That didn’t get it done last year. It won’t even be as a result of the 14.5 and 6.8 Rasheed has given them this year, although it won’t hurt. It’ll be because Mehmet Okur is on his feet after Chauncey hits a late three. It’ll be because Rip gives Big Ben a pound after a key swat. It’ll be because the whole bench gets up after Tayshaun puts down a dunk even though they’re already up by seventeen.

It’ll be because a bit of Rasheed Wallace rubbed off on them and taught them to love the game again.