Former Detroit Pistons center Ben Wallace, who spent nine seasons with the team and helped it to a championship in 2004, spoke of overcoming tough odds and building a legacy of inclusion in an allegoric speech delivered on his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame Saturday.
The first undrafted player to earn the honor, Wallace spoke of an "uneven playing field" and "leading from the bottom" — taking all of his "brothers ... sisters ... mothers ... fathers" on his "march" to the top.
Wallace, 47, grew up in poor, rural Alabama, the 10th of 11 children in a family that had to rely on neighbors to make ends meet, Sports Illustrated wrote Friday in a story titled "Ben Wallace's journey was unparalleled." Wallace helped out by picking cotton on nearby plantations.
"Basketball was not my life path, basketball was just in my life path," he said during his five-minute speech. "I took basketball and I created a path for those who helped me."
"Panthers march," he concluded, sticking his fist in the air and walking off stage. Though Wallace played for the Virginia Union University Panthers in college, the reference may have been to the Black Panther Party, which a reporter for The Undefeated notes was founded in Wallace's native Lowndes County.
Excerpts and full video of the speech are available below.
"When I moved forward, no was not an option. I keep marching. Lions fight, dogs fight. The Virginia Union Panthers, we marched. And if you follow, I'll lead. And if you lead, I'll follow. You guide me and I will finish when I get there.
"Life is not all about basketball. My life path has not alwasy been about basketball. As a young kid, not having the ability to speak and express myself, but having a lot to say, for I was proud of msyelf. Where life didn't give me a chance from the start, I kept fighting, I kept winning, I kept suceeding, I kept teaching, I kept giving back. Life is not all about taking, life is not all about conquering."
"If you build it and you can't tear it down, you got lost at the top. It's lonely at the top. Real leaders lead from the bottom. I take all my brothers and my sisters, my mothers and my fathers — I take them with me."
"Winning look good. Legacies are built ... to last. But what type of legacy are you building? What protects your legacy? I'll tell you my legacy. I wasn't welcome. I was too small, I couldn't play the game the way they wanted me to play the game. Sound like a uneven game to me. Put me on a level playing field and I'll show you: Panthers march."