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Ben Wallace The Wizards' rugged forward zealously protects his turf, but he had less luck with his superloaded truck

Never mind that he was nearly cut in training camp, or that in
12 games earlier this season he sat on the team's bench for all
48 minutes. For Ben Wallace, the Wizards' affable reserve
forward, the low point of his year came last month when he
returned from a road trip to find that his truck had been stolen
from outside his Maryland house. No mere four-by-four Jimmy,
this customized, scarlet Chevy Tahoe was a bona fide
Truckasaurus, replete with two televisions, a Sony PlayStation,
a VCR, surround sound and a seat massager. "It was the first
thing I bought with my contract, so I went all out," says a
wistful-sounding Wallace, who signed a one-year, $326,700 deal
last July. "When the police found it, it was totally stripped."

"Man, he had more cool stuff in that truck than I do in my
house," says Washington center Terry Davis, who caught his first
glimpse of Wallace's wheels last summer when the two were
working out at their alma mater, Virginia Union. "On the other
hand, if Ben keeps playing like he has been, he won't have any
trouble affording a new one."

Davis has a point, given that in February, Wallace averaged 29.4
minutes, 4.9 points and 7.8 rebounds. A 6'9" sequoia who plays
both ends of the floor with inelegance and Rasputin-like
persistence--not unlike yet another Virginia Union alum, Knicks
forward Charles Oakley--Wallace is a major reason the Wizards
have withstood a rash of frontline injuries to remain in playoff
contention. "He's done a great job rebounding, blocking shots
and getting things done in the trenches," says coach Bernie

The inspired play of Wallace, who went undrafted after finishing
his college career in 1996 and saw action in only 34 games last
season, hasn't been lost on the crowds at the MCI Center. In a
113-101 Washington win against the Pistons on Feb. 2, Wallace
cemented his status as a fan favorite by scoring seven
points--two on a monstrous follow-up jam--grabbing eight
rebounds, blocking four shots and, not least, humiliating
Detroit guard Jerry Stackhouse in a mano a mano battle. In the
fourth quarter Stackhouse attempted a mid-range jump shot, only
to have Wallace swat it into the seats. Undeterred, Stackhouse
attempted a ferocious dunk the next trip down, but Wallace
knocked the ball out of his hands. Stackhouse tried to retaliate
yet again, but after driving hard to the basket, he was called
for a charging foul when Wallace held his ground.

After fouling out with 1:40 to play, Wallace left to a standing
O. "I never imagined anything like that," he says,
absentmindedly stroking the tattoo depicting London's Big Ben on
his cinder-block right biceps. "I knew I could play at this
level, but I didn't know it would happen so soon."
--L. Jon Wertheim

COLOR PHOTO: ANDY HAYT/NBA PHOTOS SLAM BANGER Wallace digs the dirty work under the boards. [Ben Wallace in game]