The Entertainer: Saying Good-bye to Rasheed Wallace
Coach Mike Woodson: “It was the second-to-last game. We were playing the Bobcats and we’re resting a lot of our key guys. Sometime in the first quarter, I looked down the bench at Sheed and said ‘Hey, can you go?’ He said ‘Yeah’ and I put him in. Three minutes later he said his foot hurt so I took him out. Then he retired.”
Rasheed Wallace: [Expletive.]
— From the unreleased transcripts of “The Oral History of Rasheed’s Last Four Minutes as an NBA Player” by Jonathan Abrams
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Pop quiz, hotshot: Who won the gold medal for women’s vault at the London Olympics last summer? You know, The Gold Medal, the iconic symbol of athletic greatness, the ultimate signifier of success, of winning, bestowed unto those athletes whose names are inscribed for all-time into the shimmering marble-hewn pantheon of greatness. The answer is: Who the hell even cares, because McKayla Maroney made this face. Sure, the gold medal is ostensibly the raison d’être, the pinnacle of years of grueling training, but the bitchface, in a single moment, connected, and continues to connect, with millions of people — whether they found it a classless display of sore losing, or the epitome of keeping it real — because it was the face of a person saying “EFF it, I know how I’m supposed to act, but this is how I feel.” Rasheed Wallace did exactly that, but for 15 unforgettable years.
Winning is part of the binary state of sports outcomes, the flip side of which is losing. These are the two states by which we fundamentally define sport. But winning is finite. There can only be one champion, one winner of any game; the rest, no matter how glorious their defeats, are still losers in the cold light of the box score and the unforgiving brevity of the highlight. Winning is exclusionary, elitist. Winning is nice and all, but I want to be entertained.
How many of Rasheed’s more decorated contemporaries have given us even half of the memorable moments Sheed has? A probably incomplete list: the “Fuck What Ya Heard” T-shirt; driving with Damon Stoudamire; Cut the Check; “Both teams played hard” …
Ball Don’t Lie …
The technical fouls, ever-expanding like our universe; The Jersey Throw …
Jingle Bells …
And for one bright, shining moment, leading the league in PER.
Rasheed’s career stats: 14.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 47 percent FG, 34 percent 3-PT, and 0.00 Fucks Given.
Rasheed gave us more than the wins and losses, points and rebounds; he entertained us and in doing so transcended the increasingly wonkified tribalism of NBA discourse. Think about how we speak about the game now, how we thin-slice it; how we monitor and catalogue its improvisations with high-speed cameras; map its possibilities, celebrating the creation of virtual idealized-machine-cog players who flit as pixels across computer screens. How we discuss players in the language of the corporate boardroom: efficiency, shares, percentages, plus-minus, per-minute. Think about how easy it’s become to drain the life of the game. Rasheed Wallace has retired; it just got easier.