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Friday, December 12, 2003
No ignoring the man behind NBA's curtain

By Ray Ratto
Special to ESPN.com

Rasheed Wallace doesn't talk to us nearly often enough. In fact, he needs a show of his own, soonest possible.

The Portland Trail Blazers center, who has been the franchise's designed kick-me sign for more years that anyone wants to remember, cleared his throat and emptied out.

Rasheed Wallace
Rasheed Wallace will bring plenty of talent -- and baggage -- to his next destination.
Prisoners were not taken. Good.

Wallace covered a number of topics, including apologizing for getting caught with some weed last year, and acknowledged that he occasionally deserves a technical foul.

But he also removed his name from consideration as David Stern's replacement with some serious throw-downs on the commissioner and his workshop of elves, dwarves, pixies and accountants.

Nothing says fun quite like calling out the boss at the top of your lungs.

"I'm not like a bunch of these young boys out here who get caught up and captivated at the league," Wallace told The (Portland) Oregonian. "No. I see behind the false screens. I know what this business is all about. I know that the commissioner of this league makes more than three-quarters of the players in this league."

Well, that blows New Year's Day watching football with the commish.

But there's more. Much more. He thinks the NBA likes drafting high school players because they tend to be, in the immortal words of the Farrelly Brothers, "dumb and dumber."

"That's why they're drafting all these high school cats," Wallace told the paper. "Because they come into the league and they don't know no better. They don't know no better, and they don't know the real business, and they don't see behind the charade."

OK, then. We have a winner. No more calls, please.

Wallace usually keeps his opinions out of the papers, no doubt because of his high regard for the women and men of the journalism profession. But by emptying out for the local paper, he essentially dared Stern to respond, to face these unexploded hand grenades, to defend himself, whether he needs to or not.

Of all the commissioners, Stern is the one who has been least damaged by the criticisms of others, the one who has best dealt with his enemies and assuaged his friends. His has been an almost uninterrupted run of praise, worship and paychecks commensurate with his position as the highest-rated suit in the room.

Wallace, though, has never been a big fan, going back to the season he rolled up 41 technical fouls and became, in his words, "Public Enemy No. 1." He is also the only basketball figure with the possible exception of Charles Barkley to challenge the commissioner in a public venue, and Barkley doesn't carry the backpack full of chips Wallace does.

Wallace is calling Stern out, plain and simple; Wallace's Lee Marvin to Stern's Jimmy Stewart in "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." And Stern has to come out. None of this Russ Granik sitting in for Stern, either. We want the man. We want a debate, with all the trimmings.

Hey, it sure beats a duet with Ernie Johnson and Alicia Keys.

We're not claiming to champion Wallace's theories here; they are the observations of a man who has been on the inside and doesn't always like the view. They are also the observations of a man who pulls down $17 million a year, and who is the only Blazer committed enough to Portland to live there year-round.

And they are the observations of a man whose complaints need to be aired in a more reciprocal venue. They deserve to be either proved by him or refuted by Stern right where we can see them. No fines, no suspensions, just two men defending their lives, because there are only so many halftime shows a man can eat.

In other words, we're thinking Christmas Day, between games. After all, by that time of day, we'll all have seen enough of our children as we can stand and could use the diversion.

Maybe Wallace will be shown to be dead wrong in public. Maybe Stern will be exposed as a cynical power broker. Frankly, we don't have a rooting interest as long as both games end up in the 90s. If they don't, the audience will disappear even if Wallace and Stern come out dressed as Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear in "Stuck On You."

But it could also make for a little bit of great television over the leftover turkey. It could end up a much better show than the Pete Rose mock trial, or the Barry Bonds' home run auction, or the Lawrence Taylor interview on "Good Morning Sioux Falls."

And best of all, we can decide if Rasheed Wallace can bring an argument the way he can bring a game. Let's hope so. Every sport should have a conscience to go with all its blowhards, so let's see where Wallace falls, once and for all.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com