While it’s often overshadowed by the media presence and market appeal of its neighbor New York City, Philadelphia holds a distinguished place in the world of basketball. The characteristics often used to describe the players from the City of Brotherly Love don’t stray too far from a particular theme: “hungry,” “tough,” “hard-nosed,” and a common local favorite, “they got that dog in them.”
Philadelphia basketball players often pull from their experiences in their homes and out in the streets to give them an extra edge against their opponent, and Rasheed Wallace is the epitome of a Philly hooper. A legend in the city, the 6’10” forward straight out of North Philly is considered the poster child for how basketball can get you out of the city’s grasp. A first ballot All-American who was voted USA Times High School Player of the Year out of Simon Gratz High School in 1993, Wallace committed to the University of North Carolina to play under the legendary Dean Smith. Following a trip to the 1995 Final Four, he was selected fourth overall by the Washington Bullets in the 1995 NBA Draft. His 18-year career ended with four NBA All-Star selections, and a championship ring with Detroit in 2004.
Wallace is known for his fundamentally sound game and his passion on the court, which proved to be a pain in the side of NBA refs throughout his career. He was also known for his choice of on-court footwear. Where many of his peers chose sneakers that featured the latest technology, “Sheed” kept it classic, always rocking his famous Air Force 1 High shoe, with the unforgettable ankle strap. CASSIUS sat down with the legendary forward during Nike’s 35th Anniversary celebration for the Air Force 1 in Los Angeles, where he discussed the shoes, the DNA of the Philly ballplayer, and some advice for his hometown squad.
CASSIUS: You’ve been a advocate and a staple for the Air Force One brand your entire career, both on and off the court. With all the other shoes Nike has made with new technology, why choose that shoe to wear on the court?
Rasheed Wallace: Well with you being from Philly yourself, you know that growing up, the Air Force was a part of our culture, whether it was a fresh, crispy pair or a beat up pair, you’re still rocking them Airs. When it came to transferring to me wearing them on the court when I played in the league, it’s a simple shoe. You don’t have to “sell” the shoe, it pretty much markets itself. It’s like a canvas for you to do what you want. It was also a solid shoe that helped me protect my ankles. I didn’t have to worry about sliding or tripping when I played, and the Air Force was a big part of that.
C: Being a legend in our city, you know that Philadelphia is such a basketball-rich town, and our players, yourself included, are known to have that “Philly” style, very fiery, very passionate. We’re also known to allow that passion to overflow, and that can be too much for coaches and teams to deal with. What is it about the Philly ballplayer that makes us polarizing?
R.W.: I think it’s that heart and determination, and combining that with the work ethic we have to be the best overall player possible. You have cats in New York that have that flash, that handle that makes NY players, guards in particular, what they are. That’s what they’re known for. But they may have the handle, but can’t shoot worth sh*t. Philly players, he may not have the best crossover, but it’s good enough for me to get up-court, and get separation from my defender to get my shot off. It’s about being good enough at everything to be able to do anything. Growing up in Philly adds a lot to how we are as players, too, and you’re right, sometimes that gets in the way of a lot of our guys. Having issues with their coaches, their systems they have to play in, and all that. But you just gotta push through it. Being from Philly, ain’t nothing like it. Our city has some of the best players in the world, and no one can ever say different.
C: I imagine that you’ve been enjoying your retirement and the time that comes with it. It’s also allowed you to take a perspective on the game of basketball as strictly a fan and purveyor. The rising talent of this year’s Philadelphia 76ers team has brought new life to the franchise as well as the city. It’s great to be a Sixers fan again. What advice do you have for our young team to achieve both short-term and long-term success?
R.W.: Stay together. You have to stay together with one another and be one unit. With them being a young team already, a lot of people out there think we ain’t gonna win sh*t. They think we’ll win, what, 20 games? Basketball is as much, if not more, of a mental game as it is physical. We know that the critics and the media have it out for us, so we can’t fight ourselves. If we stay together and learn each other and trust each other, when we do play the Golden States and the San Antonios, we’ll be able to compete with them.