Even as Rasheed Wallace continued to miss games for the New York Knicks since January, his presence around the franchise was felt in one way or another. From yelling out encouragement from the bench, or pulling a teammate aside pregame, Wallace made sure the players knew he was still around for them.
On Wednesday, as the Knicks prepared to close out the regular season, their 82nd and final encounter coming against the Atlanta Hawks, ‘Sheed was gone. New York’s front office had announced earlier in the day that Wallace was retiring immediately because of a persistent foot problem. His locker as the Knicks warmed up on the Madison Square Garden floor was already devoid of the familiar Air Force 1’s and the over-sized throwback jackets that could be seen dangling from hangers all year.
With his retirement the Knicks also lost perhaps their best interior defender not named Tyson Chandler. Wallace was brought in by head coach Mike Woodson this past summer to help mentor the Knicks bigs: teach them how to play the post the right way. Just before Wednesday’s tip-off, a solemn Woodson – who should have been joyous at the Knicks first Division title since 1994 – spoke with some malaise about Wallace’s retirement.
“I think when you’ve played a number of years in this league; you know,” said Woodson. “You know that you just can’t answer the bell anymore, and that’s the hard part of playing professional sports, because it’s hard to walk away when you know you can’t do it anymore. He [Wallace] was a big part of our team. I tried to get him out of retirement over a year ago to get him to come back and play and then he made the decision this summer to come back.
“Earlier on this season he was a big part of what we did, a big reason to why we got off to a great start. The players respect him, it’s going to be a loss not having him around.”
Woodson convinced Wallace to return to the NBA and join the Knicks in October following a two-year retirement following his stint with the Boston Celtics. Wallace was integral in the Knicks early season explosion out the gates, his perimeter scoring and defensive nous proved vital but a stress reaction in his foot in December set him back as he appeared in only 21-games this season.
He tried to come back last Monday against the Bobcats following surgery in February but only played four minutes before exiting the game with soreness in his foot. Woodson said that Wallace felt that there was something not quite right with the way his foot responded during the game against the Bobcats.
“Again, I’m not the doctor and I’m not inside his body, but it just wasn’t right and he felt that way [too] after the game and he decided to walk away,” said Woodson. “We all wish we could play forever but that’s not the case. We [Knicks] got to move on.”
Wallace may be not be available to play any longer, but Woodson still feels he has a lot to offer the Knicks away from the court.
“I think he’s going to hang around and be around the team some,” said Woodson. “I don’t know in what capacity. I like him around me, I like Rasheed.”
Ball don’t lie.
Image via: Gemini Keez