Ben Wallace a symbol of what we can accomplish

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Commentary by Hank Sanders

There were so many.

They were so proud.

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The pride manifested itself in their eyes, in their steps, in their voices.

Every element of their beings reflected pride.

They were so proud.

There were so many.

Cars lined up as far as the eye could see.

Pickup trucks with children riding on back.

Motorcycles with riders sitting high.

Four wheelers patiently waiting to get in line.

There were so many.

They were so proud.

People riding in all manner of vehicles.

People standing and sitting on the roadside.

People walking along the road.

People riding horses.

People wherever the eye was cast.

They were so proud.

There were so many in the parade.

So many vehicles.

So many people.

Everyone different.

Yet everyone with something central in common.

This was not a big city.

It was not even a city.

It was a town, but it did not look like one.

It was so rural with its trees, farms, grasses and other growth.

Yet the people had come in droves from far beyond its borders.

The place was Whitehall, Alabama.

The day/date was Saturday, July 3rd.

The time was shortly after 10:00 a.m.

It was a special time for Whitehall.

It was a special time for Lowndes County, a special time for Alabama.

Flags were flying.

The U.S. Flag.

The Alabama flag.

The Red, Black and Green flag of African Unity.

The burgundy flags of the horse riders’ clubs.

Flags were everywhere but it was not a pre-July 4th Celebration.

There were thousands.

They were large and small, fat and skinny, old and young, male and female, Black and White.

They came in all shapes and colors.

It was amazing to see so many in this rural setting.

This was Ben Wallace Day in Whitehall.

In my brief remarks, I said, “It is a special day for Ben Wallace.

It is a special day for Ben’s family.

It is a special day for Whitehall, for Lowndes County, for Alabama, for America.

This is a celebration.

We celebrate the excellence of mind, body and spirit embodied in Ben Wallace.”

Ben Wallace overcame great odds.

One of eleven children born to Sadie Wallace.

He was gangly and painfully shy as a teenager.

His father died when he was young.

He cut hair to help make ends meet.

He was a gifted athlete, performing in basketball, football, baseball and track at Central High School in Lowndes County.

Upon graduation, he was not recruited to play basketball by Alabama, Auburn or any of the other well-known universities.

Instead, he went to a community college in Cleveland before attending Virginia Union, a historically black college.

Neither was Ben drafted by any team in the National Basketball Association (NBA).

He played in Italy before making the Washington Bullets through a try out.

He eventually ended up with the Detroit Pistons.

Ben worked hard, applying himself with every ounce of strength his mind, body and spirit could muster.

He eventually became an outstanding defensive player, twice chosen as the Defensive Player of the Year in the NBA.

He also made the All Star Team twice.

Still he continued to work on his game with everything in his being.

Ben returned to Whitehall on many occasions.

The crowds, however, were not nearly as big.

The atmosphere was not nearly as electric.

The pride was not nearly as great.

This time there was a difference.

This time Ben Wallace came as world champion.

He and the Detroit Pistons had soundly defeated the mighty Los Angeles Lakers, they of the sure-to-be hall of

famers Shaq, Kobe, Mailman (Karl Malone) and the Glove (Gary Payton).

It was not just an unexpected victory; it was a massacre of massive proportions.

Ben and the Pistons won four games to one, coming within one shot of a clean sweep.

The bottom rail had come to the top.

The “underdog” had become the “big dog.”

I had been asked to present a Senate Resolution and make remarks.

I had been asked to help sponsor the celebration.

I joined a host of others in doing both.

I expected a very good crowd.

I did not expect such an overwhelming crowd.

I did not expect such an electric atmosphere.

It was simply amazing.

When I saw Ben standing on the platform, he did not look as fearsome and resolute as he does on television in his basketball uniform.

He seemed much shorter in height, much smaller in size.

He seemed bigger in spirit.

As he stood proudly before the people, I could still detect in his humble manner the shyness from his youth.

The crowd lifted him to great heights with its collective spirit.

We lifted him with our words.

He lifted us with his presence embodying such a spirit of excellence, commitment, accomplishment and humbleness.