Joanne Gerstner on the Softer Side of Rasheed Wallace

March, 28, 2006
3/28/06
12:53
PM ET
The Detroit News reporter gives us a closer look at the man we all like to think we know.

Jackie Wallace, Rasheed's mom, and his wife Fatima are both forces for good. They want Rasheed Wallace to do the things that you and I want him to do. But somehow, they are fist-shaking mad at Portland.

"In the West, it's different, the people are really different," said Fatima, who has been married to Wallace since 1998. "They don't want you to be you. It's like they told him, you're getting paid, you're an entertainer, so here's your role. That's the way they did him. They wanted him to be bad, so he was bad. They didn't want Rasheed Wallace to be nice."

Jackie Wallace understands her son. It's not only a mother-son thing, but a bit deeper. Jackie and Rasheed share personality traits, from stubborn determination to frank outspokenness.

She's also still stinging from the seven seasons in Portland.

"It was horrible, just horrible, and oh how I would love to say more," Jackie said, shaking her fists to show her frustration.

I would love to know what they are talking about specifically. But I can imagine.

Only some of what Portland did wrong in that era is attributable to Paul Allen and Bob Whitsitt's bunglings. Portland fans, and I include myself in this, are ridiculously judgmental of basketball stars. Us fans have not done a good job of seeking out and cultivating the good parts of players like Rasheed Wallace.

A fair number of Portland players have flourished in other settings, but felt persecuted in Portland.
 Why? It's complicated. There are a million reasons.

As someone who grew up there, I'd say Portland is inherently suspicious of jet-setters, is less comfortable and familiar with black culture than many parts of America, and isn't a die-hard sports city anyway.

Portland has also been spoiled by harmonious and sweet players in its heyday: the racial nirvana of the 1977 championship team, and the "aw shucks" solidity of the teams that went to the Finals in 1990 and 1992 (which disintegrated, it's worth noting, with an incident in a Utah hotel room that hasn't stuck in the memories of most Blazer fans).

Portland fans (and this time I do not include myself) seem to want their athletes Buck Williams humble, or, dare I say it: white and local. Consider this current poll at Oregonlive: unlike any basketball expert anywhere, Portland fans see white and local Adam Morrison as by far the best pick in the draft. When the Blazers get a super-high pick and don't pick Morrison--as will undoubtedly happen--whoever comes in next will already have disappointed lots of Blazer fans.

And in the case of Rasheed Wallace, I believe that attitude helped to cultivate an ogre where Detroit has found a pussycat. Again, Joanne Gerstner:

"I make him sign a contract, I write it before games, 'Rasheed has to score 20 or more points,' " Fatima said. "If not, there will be no dinner. (She laughs.)

"He needs a challenge to get that fire in his eyes. If he doesn't have that spark if he's not burning hot, it's too easy for him."

True Colors
Wallace is laid-back at home, frequently playing video games with or without his four kids. Fatima likes to joke about having five children to raise, given Wallace's love for being goofy and loud.

Nazir, 8, thinks he's already a better basketball player than dad. Rashida, 2, the couple's only daughter, gets her daddy to sit down for tea parties. Fatima loves watching Wallace trying to delicately hold the tiny teacup by the handle with his big fingers.

He's having tea parties with two-year olds for crying out loud. I don't want to let him off the hook for accosting a ref after a game, but we ought to be able to find common ground with a man like this.

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