It’s been 12 seasons. That’s 23,000-plus minutes, five franchises and countless X-rays and MRIs.
Gerald Wallace, lovingly known as “Crash” to Charlotte Bobcats fans, is wearing down. Now a bench player for a rebuilding team, he’s at peace with what his body tells him these days.
“I understand the situation I’m in in my career. I don’t think I could play 35-40 minutes a night for 82 games anymore,” Wallace told me before Wednesday’s Bobcats-Celtics game. “It’s been an adjustment, but I had to look in the mirror and accept it myself.”
This was inevitable. I’ve never seen an NBA player quite so willing to expose himself to injury. There was the night at Staples Center when Andrew Bynum blew him up on a drive to the rim. Wallace hit the floor, with a broken rib and a collapsed lung. He was close enough to a courtside microphone that you could hear a sick wheezing sound, like a broken set of bagpipes.
The telling thing about that night is no one was surprised it happened, or that it might again. I once asked Wallace how many concussions he’d suffered. He chuckled, saying he stopped counting three seasons in.
Now he’s a trade chip more than a player. Some of the lift is gone from his leaps. It was a bit unsettling to see how easily the Bobcats’ Jeff Taylor out-athleted him on a drive to the rim.
The Brooklyn Nets aggregated his $10 million salary into the deal with the Celtics to acquire Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Wallace has two more seasons guaranteed at about $10 million each. Even if he’s no longer a great player, he’s obviously a great businessman.
He sees his role with the Celtics as much a mentor as an on-court factor. From the time he was traded out of Charlotte in February of 2011, he’s played for four franchises in as many seasons. He’s become expert at relocation.
“At this point all the moving around, it’s just a bed,” Wallace said. “I think it’s easier when you’re traded in the off-season. When you’re traded in the season and a team has already played 30-40 games together, and then you’re thrown into the mix, learning on the fly, you’re asking, ‘Where is this? Where is that?’ “
One of the important little things Wallace did as a Bobcat was protect and nurture a rookie named Gerald Henderson. Henderson is now the Bobcat with the longest tenure and he’s evolved into a guy a lot like Wallace: Candid and accountable, both about his own performance and his team’s.
Henderson’s first NBA coach was Larry Brown, a guy famous for raking on young guys. Wallace guided him through the experience.
“Everyone knows Larry is hard on guys. You have to take his criticisms with kind of a deaf ear; don’t ignore him but kind of let him roll up off of you,” Wallace recalled.
“The main thing about Larry was defense – he thought a lot of guys were soft on defense. I said, ‘You’re his punching bag right now – he punches on the younger guys. Take it in stride because the worst thing a young guy can do is come back at the coach. Turn the other cheek.’ “
Four Bobcats coaches later Henderson is a starter, playing on a 3-year, $18 million contract. Wallace likes that he played a role in what Henderson became.
“I’m proud of him, both how he’s playing and the guy he’s become on and off the court,” Wallace said. “He plays hard, plays to win. I’m glad I was able to be a part of that.”
Five stray thoughts on the Bobcats and the NBA: