Charlotte Hornets: A Tribute to Gerald Wallace

Sep 29, 2014; Waltham, MA, USA; Boston Celtics forward Gerald Wallace (45) during media day at the Celtics practice facility. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 29, 2014; Waltham, MA, USA; Boston Celtics forward Gerald Wallace (45) during media day at the Celtics practice facility. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports /

Former Bobcats’ forward, Gerald Wallace, spent the prime of his career with the team but he was never able to enjoy the success of the Charlotte Hornets.

The 6’7 swingman spent his best days with the Bobcats. Those were the dark days of failed projects and annual cellar dweller status. He was a bright spot among the mess. A must-see attraction that played through every injury and whistle he possibly could.

Within the brief history of Charlotte basketball, Wallace gets lost among the shuffle of some of the original Hornet greats and present-day Buzz City players leading the franchise’s renaissance. Yet he belongs with the best of them, a bridge from the glory days to the hopeful present.

I’ve only seen one Charlotte Hornets/Bobcats basketball game in my life live, and I went to watch the other team. The game occurred on February 4, 2011, and the Miami Heat were in town to showcase their new Big-3 of Lebron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.

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My girlfriend got us tickets as a birthday present and we embarked to Charlotte, excited to finally see the spectacle that was the “Heatles”. Miami won 109-97 as the big 3 poured in a combined 55 points, 25 rebounds and 20 assists. Just another night office for three of the best basketball players in the world.

And yet, my eyes tracked a different player across the court for the entirety of the game: Gerald Wallace. I couldn’t believe how hard he played, every single possession. How hard he ran the floor every time, and how much force he dunked the ball with. This was not just another night for him, but it was. Because he played every night like that, and stole Charlotte’s heart with every loose ball recovered, every thunderous dunk, every layup resoundingly thrown into the stands.

Over seven seasons with Charlotte, Wallace averaged 16.4 points per game, 7.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game. He made one All-Star Game in 2009-10, his best season, in which he averaged a career high 18 points and 10 rebounds per game to go along with two assists, 1.5 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. That season, he was also sixth in the league in win shares at 11.2, which is one of the best measures in analytics of how much a player adds to his team’s record.

A Star Miscast

Yet for all of his sustained success in the NBA as a swingman any team would like to have, voices around the NBA always wanted more from him. He did everything well on the court but one thing: score. Most of his points came off of layups, dunks, and a faceup post game he developed in his later years in Charlotte. For a game that relies on putting the ball in the basket above all else, that wasn’t enough for some. Doubters placed him well below elite scorers of his day. Critics pointed to his lack of a jump shot and ability to create his own offense.

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Anyone who watched him saw that Wallace made others better and be better by never quitting on plays or making excuses. His breed was rare, a guy who could affect the game without putting the ball in the basket and could fit into any system thanks to his versatility and low ego.

The best-case scenario for Wallace in the NBA would’ve been the situation Andre Iguodala is in now. Wallace and Iguodala have very similar skill sets, with Iggy being a better passer and Wallace a better rebounder. Both are elite defenders and all-around players, but they’re not 20-point scorers. They fit best when they’re not asked to score.

When the thought of the Golden State Warriors signing Kevin Durant became reality, the team was aware they would have to let go two of Harrison Barnes, Iguodala, Andrew Bogut and Shaun Livington. Golden State promptly let Barnes walk and dealt Bogut, despite both players’ tremendous importance to the team’s success and numerous years with the organization. That move validated Iguodala (and Livington’s) importance to the team as a core member of what is possibly the most talented NBA team assembled.

Crash Landing

Wallace was out of the league last season after playing 32 games for the Boston Celtics in 2014-15. His all-out playing style forced his body to deteriorate faster than others. He’s out of the league (as of right now) at the age of 34.

In the era of pace and space where versatility rules, could you imagine the contract a prime Gerald Wallace would’ve commanded this summer? Plug him in at the three or slide him over as a small-ball 4, snag a rebound and go coast to coast, or switch him on screens 1 through 5, the possibilities are endless.

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Wallace’s greatness should not be forgotten because of multiple losing seasons. Nor because his game and fit could have been so much better five years later. He gave the millions of fans in Charlotte and elsewhere their money’s worth every single night who watched him play. For a guy with the nickname “G-Force”, his game sent shockwaves throughout Charlotte that still shudder today.