Invariably, the older you get in life the more you cling onto things that make you feel young. For me, as a man that's increasingly edging closer and closer to the age of 30, remembering things that happened 15-20 years ago is in the wheelhouse of my memories. When it comes to my appreciation of basketball, I began to be influenced by ESPN's Saturday afternoon programming, which was a constant stream of the best college basketball games that the network could provide. Back in the early 1990's, I remember seeing two guys at the University of North Carolina, who would then enter the league in the 1995 NBA Draft together, and be still playing in the league almost 18 years later, that I was enamored with. It might've been in the ease that they played the game and the bravado that they carried while banging and scoring on their pitiful opponents. I didn't need anyone to tell me that they were indeed what that was.
Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse. Or as what we love to call them, Sheed and Stack.
The good folks over at The Classical have been running an ongoing series called "Why We Watch," which profiles different athletes in sports and why we're so enthralled with them. I'd encourage you to check out the pieces on Sheed and Stack respectively. Two snippets of the stories stood out to me.
First on Stackhouse, who I was shocked to be reminded that No. 42 led the league in scoring (not points per game, that'd be Iverson's scoring title) in the 2000-01 season and yet was never afraid to prove he was ready for the fight, be it in engaging in actual fisticuffs (Jeff Hornacek, Kirk Snyder and Christian Laettner are all nodding their heads) or on the basketball court:
In some sense, though, it seems as if Stackhouse has been at this point in his career forever. Some of that might just be the name, admittedly. His is an old man's name, belonging not to a professional basketball player but to a shop steward in North Carolina who played some ball back in his day, sure, but got married too young, had kids, and never figured out how to show any of them that he really loved them. Still, it fits him. Because Stackhouse has always come across as a man older than his years, nostalgic for a time that maybe never existed, keeping on because why not, filled with a self-assurance that no slight—no unending, years-long series of slights—can erode.
When Jerry Stackhouse leaves the game—finally, someday—he won't leave behind all that much. He was never given that option, not that he cared or even really noticed. His legacy probably amounts to that strange scoring title—Allen Iverson scored more points per game in '00-01, although Stackhouse scored the most points—and the time he changed into sweats after playing the Jazz so he could smack Kirk Snyder. Stackhouse will pop up in some arena a decade from now, singing the national anthem, and you’ll remember him, but only vaguely. There’s no signature game or play.
You’ll have forgotten him. But then, you did that a long time ago. Stackhouse will remember, though. He'll remember every slight and every bucket, little things that only he ever knew in the first place. He’ll be damn sure he could still play 20 minutes if you needed him. He'll tell you he was open on the last play. He might even be right.
Then on Rasheed, one of the most beloved players in TSFJ history, has always been someone that we believe deserved propping up. Why? Because as much as his game has always been so pure, there have been so many that have attempted to curb his personality with authority and punishment, to which Sheed would laugh, throw a towel in your face, or point in your face and tell you how wrong you were. He's basically the living embodiment of Peter Gibbons in "Office Space" once he's decided that "The Man" can go fuck himself.
We watch because there is a special sort of person who can do things which society-at-large deems to be "wrong"—fighting, marijuana use, disrespect of authority figures, unwillingness to conform to social norms, not-particularly well-kept beards, and so on—and emerge from those repeated transgressions not diminished in the public eye, but with an ever more roguish, anti-heroic magnetism. The usual commentators cluck when Rasheed does the things that Rasheed repeatedly, invariably and unapologetically does—see the parenthetical clause above. But those who truly understand the transgressive thing he's after, who dare take Rasheed Wallace to the head, find him only more appealing and inspiring to our repressed but un-extinguished inner rebelliousness with each new transgression.[...]
Rasheed Wallace went through Knicks practice in sweatpants rolled up to above his ankles and a backwards jersey. Rasheed wore a T-shirt that read "FUCK WHAT YA HEARD" to his Blazers introductory press conference. Rasheed succinctly sums up big-time sports businesses' relations with its employees with the indelible bon mot "CTC" (Cut The Check), pissing off the sports media establishment by daring to express a motivation that doesn't begin and end with THE LOVE OF THE GAME. Rasheed blows up at the officials and gets technicals. Rasheed threw a towel in a teammate's face. He was a total dick to Ruben Boumtje Boumtje.
Whose inner-teenager doesn't, now and again, fantasize about walking into class or the office wearing what-the-fuck-ever; telling an authority figure where they can put it; giving 70% and having it be better than 90% of your competition; and telling the world to take it or leave it? And then to have the world take it. And then keep taking it until you're near a decade past a prime you never cared about anyway. This. Is. Why. We. Watch.
We watch Sheed and Stack now, and it's amazing how much every three-bomb from Wallace brings so much joy to my life. Or seeing Stackhouse get into his defensive stance and fluster another bumbling rookie in the league. Sheed balling in Madison Square, Stack balling in the Barclays Center. Sheed's savage beard, Stack's bending of the knees on his free throws. Sheed's egregious cussing and yelling at anyone who dares defy Sheed logic. Stack's goon-like staredowns at anyone who dares buck up to Stack's bullish nature. From UNC to the NBA, they've never changed, and really, they've never really evolved either. They've always been who they are, both on and off the court.
Both players were never ahead of their time or transcendent for future generations, but more so will always be timeless figures of our generation. I know they'll leave the court for good one day, but until then, just let me enjoy these old dudes hooping out there one more time.
Eddie Maisonet is the founder and editor emeritus of The Sports Fan Journal. Currently, he serves as an associate editor for ESPN.com. He is an unabashed Russell Westbrook and Barry Switzer apologist, owns over 100 fitteds and snapbacks, and lives by Reggie Jackson’s famous quote, “I am the straw that stirs the drink.”