- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2001

Rasheed Wallace has been allowed to be all he can be, which is a nut case of record-setting proportions, and coincidentally, the $89 million experiment in Portland, Ore., is an abysmal failure.

Wallace is the face to the mess, and what a crazy face it is, with veins popping, eyes bulging, froth at the mouth. If Wallace were a dog, he would be tested for rabies.

Wallace is not out of control. He is a couple of levels beyond that. He has left his container. When he gets mad, he does not get even. He just kills his team.

Wallace lives in a nether world of dark conspiracies and imaginary voices. He knows they are out to get him: the CIA, the FBI, the Secret Service and David Stern's minions. His phones are bugged, his whereabouts chronicled in numbing detail. He lives with the man on the grassy knoll, the one-armed man and the man with two faces. He has a computer chip planted in his brain, which records his every thought, because they want to hurt him, they want to control him, they want to lead him down this path to nowhere.

Don't look now, but Wallace has reached for a towel.

That is your sign to run for cover.

Most guys in Wallace's position pack a gun. He packs a towel. This is his instrument of persuasion. You commit a horror against him, and he points a semiautomatic towel in your direction and says, "Stick 'em up."

In Wallace's world, every day is a low-speed chase, and he is riding in a white Bronco, carrying a passport, $10,000 in cash and a fake beard, and oh my God, please, no, don't do it, he has a loaded semiautomatic towel pointed to his head.

They won't leave him alone. They just won't. They harass him. They mock him. They torment him. It doesn't have to be this way. It shouldn't be this way. Life is difficult enough.

Wallace majored in the F-word at North Carolina. Maybe Dean Smith can help. That is one suggestion anyway. Maybe Smith can pick up the telephone and try to pull Wallace back from the ledge. No, that wouldn't work, either. They would be listening.

It is no longer about basketball with Wallace. It is about trying to make it to the next day. There are no guarantees, not when so many are out to get him. Can't you see? Can't you read?

Wallace received a record-setting 41 technical fouls during the regular season, plus seven ejections and four suspensions, two by the NBA and two by the team, if you insist on calling the Trail Blazers a team.

Wallace did what anyone in his situation would do. He defended himself with a towel. He used the towel on a referee midway through the season, then, near the end of the season, on teammate Arvydas Sabonis.

Fortunately, towels don't kill people. Towels only sting people.

Wallace is a pacifist at heart, merely trying to, you know, get along, and he has no historical grievances with the Viet Cong, but, like it or not, in the post-Cold War age, he is the new target.

He borrows from song to ask: Why is everybody always picking on me?

Wallace has led the Trail Blazers to a demon-filled dimension, where the sun rises from the west and the earth is flat, and even the normally consummate professionals in his midst have shown signs of cracking under the stress. Now Dale Davis, Stacey Augmon and Steve Smith are hearing voices in their heads, and Mike Dunleavy is at the grocery store, securing boxes to pack up his belongings.

The Trail Blazers were the best team money could buy in the NBA, which came out to a 50-32 record and one embarrassing development after another. Rod Strickland, who usually is trying to walk a straight line on the side of a road with the hiccups, was acquired to bring a measure of levity to the operation, if not lighten the mood while playing with his shorts on backward.

Before long, Shawn Kemp checked himself into the NBA's drug-treatment program, which qualifies as a vacation in his case, considering his seven children by six women at last count.

Through it all, the one constant was Wallace, too tall to hide from his cloak-and-dagger pursuers, too easily misunderstood.

They were all out to get him, and sadly, they got him as well as his teammates.

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