The view from Hill

Philly legend believes Wallace will return

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / July 8, 2010

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ORLANDO, Fla. — In 15 years in the NBA, the stigma that grew around Rasheed Wallace was that he was a temper tantrum waiting to happen. His 304 technical fouls only supported that. But back when he was playing in the Sonny Hill league in Philadelphia, a young Wallace blew up one time, and one time only, according to Hill.

“I only had one incident with him,’’ said Hill, known as “Mr. Basketball’’ in Philadelphia hoop circles after starting his league in 1968. “I had to step to him and I said, ‘Hey, if you don’t understand what it is, you can go ahead and take my uniform off.’ From that point on, he’s always been the consummate Sonny Hill player.’’

Wallace played in the league from the sixth grade to his senior year of high school. He and Hill have maintained a strong relationship ever since, and Hill is aware that after a trying season in Boston, Wallace is on the verge of retiring. But even after watching the 35-year-old big man gut out a Game 7 loss to the Lakers in the Finals, Hill had a hard time believing it was true.

“I don’t think he’s going,’’ Hill said earlier this week. “I think that what happened is he was so emotionally frustrated about what transpired at the end that this may have provoked him to think along that line.’’

It was clear that the season wore on Wallace, who was brought in by the Celtics to help bolster the Big Three in the hopes of winning a second title in three seasons. But by the All-Star break, Wallace was shooting 29.6 percent from 3-point range, struggling to find the form that made him an All-Star just two years prior.

“I think it was frustration,’’ Hill said.

“First off, he’s a consummate winner. He’s used to being in situations where he wants to win. If you’ve watched Rasheed’s career, it’s never been about individual play. It’s always been about team play. If you talk to the people who played with him, they use the words ‘ultimate team player.’ Many times, he’s given up a lot of things that he could have done from a statistical point of view in order to be a team player.’’

Hill can rattle off a roster of former players, but speaks fondly of Wallace.

Hill acknowledged that Wallace is responsible for his reputation. He drew 17 technical fouls during this past regular season, and six more in the postseason.

“I think the thing that people don’t understand is his passion for the game and his emotionalism,’’ Hill said. “I think his emotionalism has created an image with a lot of people that he’s out of control. He’s not really out of control.’’

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