NEW YORK — There was a moment in the New York Knicks’ 106-99 victory over the Phoenix Suns at Madison Square Garden last Sunday afternoon when Rasheed Wallace, their volatile forward, had seen enough.
He made his displeasure known to all in attendance by shouting, “Ball don’t lie!" Repeatedly.
This promptly, predictably, inevitably led to his ejection.
Unfortunately for the short-handed Knicks, that moment came less than 90 seconds after Wallace shed his warm-up suit.
With the Knicks ahead, 24-14, Wallace, the NBA’s career leader in technical fouls (317 and counting), bodied Suns forward Luis Scola, drawing a whistle. He followed that up by violently swatting the ball from Scola’s hand, and then chopping at the air.
Technical foul No. 1. Wallace, though, was merely getting started.
When Suns guard Goran Dragic’s technical foul shot bounced off the rim, Wallace loudly delivered his career-spanning catchphrase. And with that, he received his second technical, and an automatic ejection. He was sent to the showers, without having broken a sweat.
Like other aphoristic phrases in the NBA’s expansive, if not altogether very imaginative lexicon (“lock him up," for example), “Ball don’t lie" traces its roots to playground courts. It is usually said when what is perceived to be a bad call does not result in a score, but instead a turnover or a missed shot.
There’s a simple poetry to it, the street-righteous version of “Cheaters never prosper." It implies that the ball — possessed of its own moral compass — tips the scales of on-court justice, and not the referees or the other players.
It’s karma at work.
But for the most part, that’s where “Ball don’t lie" stays, in the hands of amateurs. Over the course of his enigmatic career, however, it has also become Wallace’s trademark retort against what he perceives as unfairness (and, considering its recent notoriety, one that he should probably consider trademarking).
No other NBA player uses it.
It’s not, based on an imperfect effort at research, clear when Wallace first said it, but he’s used the term hundreds of times over the years. In fact, YouTube is filled with videos of Wallace dropping “Ball don’t lie" during different stages of his professional career.
Actually, Wallace’s somewhat inexplicable folk hero status — name-checked in hip-hop songs and adorning Mitchell & Ness throwback jerseys from every team on which he’s played — and the popularity of his catchphrase have even spawned a popular basketball blog, Ball Don’t Lie, which was created five years ago. The name was adopted, not out of admiration for Wallace’s varied skills, but in tribute to the odd outburst’s ubiquity. Wallace was then playing for the Portland Trail Blazers.
After the game against the Suns on Sunday, Carmelo Anthony said of Wallace, his new teammate, “He’s the only guy in the league that gets technical fouls for saying, ‘Ball don’t lie.’ "
An indisputable observation, for sure. But not, evidently, one apt to provoke a change in Wallace’s behavior.