The mid-2000s were a strange time in the NBA. After the Detroit Pistons hastened the demise of the Shaq and Kobe Lakers, the reigning best team in the NBA was the San Antonio Spurs, whose public’s perception that they were a boring team. But the big story was when Ben Wallace was benched for wearing a headband.
The Pistons played a part in the infamous Malice at the Palace brawl in between their two-consecutive NBA Finals appearances in 2004 and 2005. Wallace was the man who ostensibly landed the first blow in that fight, and he then departed Detroit for Chicago in the 2006 offseason. Once there, he bristled at the restrictive rules of Bulls head coach Scott Skiles. The most ridiculous of those rules was part of the Stern-led wave of attempts to clean up the NBA’s image: Skiles banned headbands by Bulls players.
Wallace hated the rules, and he felt “singled out” for his unique style. His ill-fated Bulls tenure was peppered with such anecdotes as him rebelling against a ban on music in the locker room by simply jacking up the volume on his headphones so they were audible in the whole room. Happily, we’ve largely progressed past the point where older white men try to enforce their personal decorum preferences on young black men (in the NBA, at least). The do-rags never came back, but they’ve been replaced by personal expressions like the ones Russell Westbrook wears before games.
At times a surly player, Wallace used the emotion he played with both to defend Shaq better than perhaps anybody and to infuriate his coaches. He certainly didn’t deserve to be benched over wearing a headband, and that exchange reflects much more poorly on Skiles, who abruptly quit coaching the Magic after last season.