WE’VE all heard the age-old sports mantra – offense wins games, defense wins championships. If that were the whole truth then Ben Wallace and Dennis Rodman are some of the greatest champions to play the game. Between them, they claimed six NBA titles over a two-decade period during which they grabbed almost every rebound possible and in turn became immortal low-post legends. When stacking their career accomplishments next to one another though, there can only be one winner…
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QUALIFYING for a large number of playoff games can often earn individuals a lot of league-wide respect, but it should be viewed as more of a team accomplishment rather than an individual achieved. In his 14-year career, Dennis Rodman made the postseason 11 times, three more times than Wallace did, despite Big Ben playing two more seasons than the Worm. If you dig into their per-game numbers though you’ll learn that Rodman’s averages all declined in the playoffs, while Wallace got better in almost every category. By no means was Dennis a passenger on five championship teams, however, Wallace had a bigger impact over a longer stretch in the postseason, giving him the W here.
NEITHER of these players was known for their work on the offensive side of the ball during their careers and I feel safe in saying this is the first and probably last time a CTP argument will include two players who averaged single-figure scoring totals (Wallace 5.7 PPG, Rodman 7.3 PPG). There was one season when Rodman scored 11.6 per contest, but the occasional putback dunk or hook shot was the limit of their offensive talents. Both players couldn’t hit the side of a barn from the free-throw line with Rodman’s gross 58.4% from the charity stripe a lethal mark compared to Wallace’s 41.4%. In fact, Rodman did connect on more than half his shots from the field, which is something Wallace can’t say and for someone who owned incredible defensive talents, averaging 7.3 points isn’t that bad.
Image from nba.com
THIS is where the real competition begins! Ben Wallace was the anchor of the dominant Pistons teams through the 00’s, emerging as a better rim protector than Rodman finishing his career as Detroit’s all-time leader in blocked shots. Wallace was a beast rebounding the ball as well, despite only standing at 6′ 9″, leading the league in boards twice and chalking up four Defensive Player of the Year Awards along the way. 23 players in NBA history have recorded 1,000 steals and 1,000 blocks and Wallace is the only one with more career blocks than personal fouls and more career steals than turnovers. Damn.
WHILE he was a versatile star defender in the early 21st century, Dennis Rodman paved the way for Wallace with his heroics in the 90’s. I won’t bore you by reeling off all the records that Rodman owns rebounding the ball, but just know, since the ABA-NBA merger in ’76 no one has really come close to the level Rodman was at feasting on the glass. Rebounding wasn’t his only defensive gift as his tenacity and defensive hustle led to him shutting down some of the greatest big men. After holding his own against the likes of Karl Malone, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar and Shawn Kemp in the NBA Finals, you can see why Rodman was regarded as an all-time stopper.
IT’S a tight argument once again and Wallace deserves a lot of credit for his defensive efficiency, especially given his lack of size. Unfortunately for Wallace, Rodman was just another breed of player and there wasn’t a lot that he couldn’t do from a defensive perspective. Whether he was out there to snare 10 rebounds in a quarter or silence an All-Star big man, Rodman could do it all.
Edge: Rodman (Just)
WALLACE – 2006 East Finals Game 5
ONCE of the most iconic photos/defensive plays of the is also Ben Wallace’s crowning moment. It came during the East Finals in 2006 with the Pistons in a 3-1 hole against the Miami Heat, who were out for revenge after Detroit eliminated them 12 months earlier in the ’05 playoffs. Shaquille O’Neal was having his way with Detroit’s bigs in the series, but Wallace wasn’t about to let Shaq have any easy baskets. and he hung in the air to force a jump ball by blocking the 7′ 1″, 325lb man’s shot in the third quarter. Of course, he then won the jump ball as well.
RODMAN – 1996 NBA Finals Game 6
YOU might not know that Dennis Rodman received two of a possible 11 votes for Finals MVP in ’96 with his work on the glass at an all-time high against the Sonics. After storming to a 3-0 lead, Seattle won the next two games to challenge the Bulls. In the clinching game, Rodman stepped up to the plate, tying his own NBA Finals record with 11 offensive rebounds – a record he set in Game 2 of the series! For good measure, the Worm added five assists, three steals, a block and an efficient nine points, while fouling out Seattle best big man in Shawn Kemp with just under five minutes left in the match.
IN a way neither player had a career littered with shining moments, with their highlight reels full of scrappy possessions fighting and battles for position inside a clogged paint. Take nothing away from either of these accomplishments though, hell, Wallace’s block on Shaq was my laptop’s wallpaper for at least 12 months. I’m not biased though and Rodman’s record-tying feat helps him take a 3-1 lead in this head-to-head contest.
THIS one is really, really, REALLY close. Rodman has the advantage with more championships (5-1), rebounding titles (7-2) and All-Defense selections (8-6) than Big Ben. However, Wallace has Rodman beat when it comes to All-Star appearances (4-2), Defensive Player of the Year Awards (4-2) and All-NBA berths (5-2). Some of those awards are slightly influenced by team success and at the end of the day, we tend to value winning above all. On the record front, Wallace does own some unique and impressive accolades, but Rodman’s resume easily outshines the younger Piston. It’s another close one, but another triumph for Dennis.
Edge: Rodman (Just)
Image from sportsmockery.com
THE twin towers both own two very different personalities. Soft-spoken Ben Wallace doesn’t seem like a bad guy by any means, but there are a few misdemeanours on his resume. However, he seems to have his head on straight, recently announcing he is becoming a part-owner of the Grand Rapids Drive, the Detroit Pistons’ G-League affiliate. Having his head on straight isn’t exactly a term linked with Dennis Rodman. The polarizing-bizarro character can often be found in news headlines or on Twitter feeds for his political opinions, trips to North Korea and the occasional basketball venture. For better or worse, no one is forgetting Rodman’s name anytime soon and no matter how insane he might be, he was an incredible NBA player as well as an entertaining personality.
WINNER – DENNIS RODMAN
IT comes as no surprise that Rodman is the winner, but Wallace deserves recognition despite the lopsided victory from the former Bulls champ. Rodman’s bulldog mentality suited the tough era he played in and allowed him to shine to his full potential and emerge as one of the greatest defenders and rebounders to grace the court. The same could be said for Ben Wallace a decade late, channelling his own defensive prowess to establish himself as one of the premier defenders during his time in the league. Both players have made amazing contributions to the game and a HOF appearance should be around the corner for Wallace. In this argument though, Rodman takes the cake.