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Billups Recalls Ben Wallace Grit: Blew Through Shoe While Battling Shaq in '04 Finals

Billups Recalls Ben Wallace Grit: Blew Through Shoe While Battling Shaq in '04 Finals

Pistons' resilience shines against Lakers in 2004 NBA Finals.

by Nouman Rasool
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Billups Recalls Ben Wallace Grit: Blew Through Shoe While Battling Shaq in '04 Finals
© Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Reflecting on the Detroit Pistons' triumphant 2004 NBA championship run, Chauncey Billups recently highlighted the herculean efforts of Ben Wallace in trying to contain the legendary Shaquille O'Neal. During a game that has since entered Pistons lore, Wallace, known for his defensive prowess, faced the daunting task of guarding a prime Shaq, whose dominance in the paint was nearly unparalleled.

In an interview with ABC7 in 2021, Billups shared a memorable anecdote about Wallace's commitment and intensity on the defensive end. "Ben was fighting so hard that he blew through his shoe, trying to resist Shaq backing down.

It was the craziest thing. He actually blew through his shoe," Billups recounted. This incident occurred as Wallace and the Pistons squared off against the star-studded Los Angeles Lakers during the fiercely contested Finals.

Despite Wallace's relentless efforts, Shaq proved to be a formidable force, consistently showcasing his strength and skill throughout the series. In the opening game, O'Neal dropped an impressive 34 points, setting the tone for what would be a challenging matchup for Wallace and the Pistons.

"Big Ben" was tasked with the nearly impossible job of single-handedly managing Shaq in the paint. Throughout the series, Wallace employed various defensive strategies from playing behind O'Neal to attempting to front him—but the Lakers adeptly countered each tactic.

"All you can do is just fight," Wallace said after Game 4, reflecting on the relentless nature of the challenge.

Team Effort Triumphs

The Pistons, underdogs from the start, were well aware that containing "Diesel" would require a collective effort.

Despite their strategic adjustments, the Lakers' offense often found ways to exploit the Pistons' defense. However, the Detroit team's spirit never wavered, and their hard work eventually paid dividends. Wallace's dogged determination and mental toughness were crucial in making Shaq work for every point, which, according to Billups, was a testament to Wallace's underappreciated skillset.

"He was having to deal with that dude by himself. Two people can't guard Shaq, and we're asking one guy to do it, and a guy that's probably six inches shorter and a hundred pounds lighter," Billups explained. For Billups, who earned the 2004 NBA Finals MVP, Wallace's performance was particularly noteworthy.

He viewed that championship series as Wallace's moment to shine—a time when "Big Ben" proved his mettle to the world. "He just felt validated. Like we all did. He felt like, 'What can they say about me now? I wasn't supposed to be here.

I wasn't supposed to be a champion. I wasn't supposed to be an All-Star. I wasn't supposed to be any of these things. Now that we won it, what can they really say about me now?'" Billups reflected.

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