After a standout junior season at Simon Gratz High, Rasheed Wallace sat with his coach, Bill Ellerbee, to discuss his future. He knew his mom needed help. His brother had gotten a job at Sears by way of his uncle. No one in Wallace’s immediate family had gone to college.
“What are you going to do?” Ellerbee asked Wallace. Wallace said he figured he’d try to get a 9-to-5 job at Sears with his uncle and brother, so that’s what he told Ellerbee.
Ellerbee shook his head. “No, you’re getting out of here," he told Wallace. "You’re getting out of Philly.”
The 6-foot-11 Wallace went on to play for Dean Smith at North Carolina and then launched a 16-year NBA career that included a league title with Detroit.
Last week he was back “at the crib” to be inducted into the 2019 Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame. Suzy Kolber, Donovan McNabb, and Troy Vincent were also among the 15-member induction class.
“I would rather be here in the Philly Hall of Fame than the NBA Hall of Fame," Wallace said. "It’s more special to me because it’s my city, it’s the people I grew up with and [the people that] watched me before I became who I am.”
At Gratz, Wallace was a two-time Parade All-American, and the 1992 USA Today Player of the Year. The Bulldogs finished Wallace’s senior season 31-0 and were widely regarded as the No. 1 team in the country. He averaged 16 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocks.
Wallace’s prep career is where he made his name in Philly, but his college and professional days weren’t too shabby, either. He played two seasons at North Carolina and was a second-team All-American as a sophomore.
North Carolina reached the Final Four but didn’t win a national championship in Wallace’s last season, something that stays with him because he won a title at every other level.
“I think if I would have stayed at Carolina for my junior year, we would have won it,” he said.
Wallace was the fourth pick in the 1995 NBA draft (by Washington). He went on to become a two-time All-Star with Portland and a two-time All-Star with Detroit, which acquired him late in the 2003-04 season en route to the NBA championship.
His career was defined by his ability to score, rebound, and block shots, but there’s another statistic that people remember as well: Wallace set the NBA record with 41 technical fouls in 2001. To put that number in perspective, last season’s technical-foul leader had 16. He is third on the all-time career list with 317, behind Karl Malone’s 332 and Charles Barkley’s 329.
As long as Wallace’s teammates understood why he was getting a technical, he didn’t care what everyone else thought. Wallace said referees wanted to treat players like “a father-son relationship,” but he was going to be treated like a grown man.
“I could care less about that [record]. A majority of it was things I was going through at that time outside of basketball with my family, so I had a short fuse,” Wallace said. “But the other thing, I already know I wasn’t a league darling. I already know that they didn’t like me, but I didn’t care.”
Today, Wallace is coaching at Charles E. Jordan High School in Durham, N.C., and he’s been “running the kids to death.” He can’t take it easy on them, because no one took it easy on him.
He’s in North Carolina, but, he says, “People know I’m Philly straight up and down. When people look at me, ask me, or say something to me, they know I’m Philly.”