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Wallace likes gruff guy persona

By Gary Washburn
October 4, 2009

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NEWPORT, R.I. - The woolly beard has one long, distinctive gray hair sticking out directly under the chin. It is one of the few signs that Rasheed Wallace is aging. He is no longer the young, brash power forward with immense skills and a mouth to match. Wallace is a 35-year-old veteran, nearing the end of a mercurial but successful career.

His image is cemented. With 296 career technical fouls and 24 ejections, Wallace has earned the reputation of a screaming time bomb with trouble controlling his emotions. He barks at officials. He can be surly with reporters. His smiles are scarce.

And he is quite comfortable with that reputation. When Wallace signed with the Celtics, all of New England wondered whether he was actually serving as a spy, planning to smuggle secrets back to the Pistons.

To the contrary, Wallace immediately attempted to embrace his new surroundings by participating in the NBA’s Read to Achieve program at the DotWell after-school program Sept. 22, just the beginning of what Wallace plans to do for the Boston community.

“We went on the Duck Tour that took, like, 50 hours, but it was fun,’’ he said. “The kids enjoyed it. They had a blast. Had a chance to drive the little duck boat in the water. They loved it. That’s all you would like to see. That’s all I like to see. Smiles on their faces. Them having a chance to do something they wouldn’t have been able to do in years.’’

What fans don’t know, and Wallace doesn’t bother to publicize, is that he is one of the more giving NBA players in the community. In Detroit, he adopted Kettering High School and donated school supplies, computers, and book bags.

“I just do a lot of things in the community for the kids, especially out in the D [Detroit] that can’t afford all this stuff,’’ Wallace said. “I like to work under the radar, I don’t do it for the pub, I don’t necessarily do it for the TV and this and that. I just go out there and do it for the necessity of that family or the kids.’’

Wallace is hardly concerned with his image. While many players become media-friendly as their careers go on or become more consumed with public perception, Wallace has no intention of changing. That stubbornness may be the reason the Celtics are his fifth team - remember that one-game stint with the Hawks? - in 14 years.

The philosophy is simple. Wallace doesn’t care if he’s judged, except when it comes to children. He has four children and describes himself as a regular guy, the kind who plops the kids in the cart and goes grocery shopping or piles up goodies at the toy store.

But when he gets his 6-foot-11-inch frame out of that SUV, with the unkempt beard and scowl on his face, Wallace exudes intimidation. That is the idea.

“A lot,’’ was his response when asked how many people believe he is a grouchy dude. “But that’s how I like it though, honestly. It keeps the riff-raff away. It keeps all the negative people away.

“Yeah, that’s fine with me, because you know, I’m not mean to kids. Kids are innocent. But sometimes that’s how the adults play you, ‘Hey Johnny, go over there and ask him for an autograph,’ knowing I am not going to say no. The only time I said no is if I am with my kids or my family.’’

The mission for Wallace is to help bring the Celtics another championship. He blended in perfectly with the 2004 Pistons, giving Detroit a tough interior defender and perimeter shooter who could stretch the floor. Talent has never been an issue with Wallace - chemistry and on-court behavior have.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Friday the club has the talent to win the title: “It comes down to how well they play together, and if we can get that right, if they’re willing to want to get that right, they have a shot at it.’’

Wallace insists he’s a good teammate and his past antics and current reputation won’t pollute the Celtics’ title chances.

“[People think] I’m off the rocker, that’s how it is,’’ he said. “I have no problem with that. Guys have different perceptions of me on other teams, and coaches, too. ‘Aww, Wallace is a hothead and this and that.’

“But they would love for me to be on their team because I’m a team player. If we ever get in a scrap, I got my team’s back. No matter from the first man down to the 15th man, the coaches included.’’

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