It's not everyday that a city loses two of its iconic sports figures within 12 hours but unfortunately for Detroit fans it happened today. First came Steve Yzerman's announcement that he was retiring after 23 years in Detroit, the last twenty as the captain. He helped lead the Wings to three Stanley Cups and was one of the top three players on NHLPA '93 for Genesis, only ranking behind Jeremy Roenick and Theo Fleury. I'm not going to pretend Yzerman's retirement effected me that much because personally I've never been a big hockey fan, but Yzerman has been playing at a high level for as long as I've been alive and I have to respect that.
However the news that broke later in the day and resonated with me on a lager level was the news that Ben Wallace had signed a free agent contract with the Chicago Bulls. I had been bracing for the news for some time now and even mentioned his potentially leaving for the Bulls in a previous post. Nevertheless it was still shocking to actually see scrolling across the Bottomline, "Ben Wallace agrees in principle to a deal with the Bulls." ESPN.com initially reported that Wallace had signed a 4 year $52 million which sent me into a near frenzy. The mere thought that Ben would leave for only $1 million more per season, (look at me write like $1 million dollars is nothing, if I had a million dollars to throw around I would be posting from a submarine right now.) I couldn't believe that he would turn his back on the Pistons, this starting five that was supposed to be like family, a team that was coming off back to back Finals appearances and another deep run into the playoffs for an extra million dollars a year to win 45 games with the Bulls and finish 3rd in the Central division. What a sell-out, what another money hungry selfish pro athlete. That's what I was going to write and then I heard that the deal was for 4 years $60 million and that........well that changed everything. First I could understand why Ben would take the money, it's a 3 million dollar a year difference and 12 million over the course of the contract, it was definitely his last big payday as he'll be 36 at the end of the deal and he probably has been underpaid during the course of his career, especially in his defensive prime. Second I could understand why the Pistons wouldn't match (if they were even given the chance) because Ben is going to be 36 at the end of the deal, he is already beginning to slip, was coming off a nightmare postseason, is a complete liability on the offensive end, and seemed to be increasingly petulant and unhappy in Detroit, a problem that began under Larry Brown and was exacerbated under Flip Saunders and highlighted by his refusal to re-enter a game against the Magic.
The man who came to Detroit in in the Grant Hill trade because the Magic didnt want to depart with the distinguished John Amaechi and became the face of the franchise and the most popular player for the Pistons since the original Zeke, Dumars, and Laimbeer will now ply his trade for a hated Central Division rival. What do I expect from Big Ben? Next year I think a motivated Ben will have a classic Ben season 8 points per game, 13 boards, 2.5 blocks, solid interior defense, and a potential 5th Defensive Player of the Year award 48 wins and a second round playoff exit, followed by a solid second season where his numbers begin to slip, followed by a precipitous decline in year three where he scores 3 points per game, to finally a trade to the Warriors to clear cap space playing 15 minutes a night backing up Ike Diogu and Andris Bierdins. Was this worth another couple of title runs with the best starting five in the league, having your jersey hang from the Palace rafters, and being loved and adored by an entire basketball crazed community/fanbase? I guess only Big Ben has the answer to that.
Finally what do the Pistons do? I think this is a blessing in disguise for the Pistons. Is it going to be gut-wrenching that first time Ben returns to the Palace in a Bulls uniform (as photoshopped on the always fabulous Need4sheed.)? Is it going to feel like something's missing during the intros, with no bell-ringing and no Ben jumping into the players? Am I going to miss him going 1-9 from the line in the 4th quarter and being intentionally fouled? Yes, Absolutely, and Hell No!!!!!!!! I think the Pistons move McDyess into the starting lineup where they'll lose.......well nothing, and they'll gain someone who is competent on offense. Rasheed will move to the five, and hopefully they'll be able to sign Bonzi Wells to the mid-level and still have room for Nucky Ratkins, with Carlos Delfino continually improving getting 20-25 minutes a game, and who can forget about the immediate contributions of Cheick Samb. Is that a team that wins 65 games? Am I asking to many questions? No and Yes. But still it could be enough to contend in the East and with the right pieces picked up through trades and such could surprise people. Would it still be nice to have Darko, who was traded away for the cap-space necessary to re-sign Ben, which means we passed on Carmelo, Bosh and DYWANE FUCKING WADE!! for 2 and a half season of Darko and Kelvin Cato's wasted cap space? Sure, but at the time Ben's re-signing was going to be a slam dunk. (No I'm not bitter what are you implying?)
Feeling the need to have some closing words for Ben, without running the risk of sounding overly sappy/emotional, reminiscing about the past but knowing that things will be better in the future without them, I will say the same words I chose when my roommate and I moved out after living together for four years. "It's been real, Ben."