John Wallace is 39 now, not old enough to collect AARP benefits, yet so far removed from his playing days that the students at Buffalo’s North Park Middle Academy hardly budged when he was introduced. That changed when he mentioned playing for the Miami Heat.
There were oohs, aahs, and high fives exchanges. The volume increased when Wallace listed Dwyane Wade as a teammate. Now more attentive, the students fired away questions: Can you stop LeBron James? What position did you play? Can you dunk? What number did you wear? Did you play against Michael Jordan?
Wallace’s life after basketball is a full slate: public relations and consulting work with the New York Knicks, the team that drafted him out of Syracuse University in 1996, insurance work and a board member of the Petro River Oil Corporation.
His oldest son, John, Jr., attends Hillsborough Community College in Tampa while his 16-year-old son, Joey, is one of the top young point guards in Connecticut.
It was motivational speaking that brought Wallace to Buffalo on Monday as Vice President of Winning Because I Tried, a company he runs along with former University at Buffalo guard Modie Cox.
“I’m just enjoying life,” Wallace said. “Life is good.”
For Wallace, there’s always time to talk about basketball, like Wade’s first practice as a pro when he dunked on 6-foot-9, 255-pound Brian Grant.
“He jumped over him,” Wallace said. “I remember myself, Samaki Walker and Lamar Odom were sitting in the room afterwards and we were like, ‘Did we just see the next Jordan?’ No one knew about this kid.”
At a preseason game in Puerto Rico, Wallace informed Allen Iverson about his new teammate from Marquette.
“A.I, this kid DWade is serious.”
“Wait ‘till we put that D on him.”
“A.I. … you’re not understanding me. He’s a different animal.”
Carmelo Anthony is another lively topic.
“I know I’m slightly biased but I felt like Carmelo Anthony should have been MVP for sure,” he said. “You take him off the Knicks and I don’t think they’re even a playoff team. You could take LeBron off Miami they’re still going to make the playoffs, they’re still a really good formidable team with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and the pieces that they have down in Miami.”
Wallace said Anthony, who averaged a career best 28.7 points this season, is an underrated defender.
“I’ve never seen a guy catch so much flack for being so good,” Wallace said.
“Carmelo Anthony is a bonafide prolific scorer and with the addition of Mike Woodson and some of the schemes he’s put in, he’s played really good defense this year. It’s not guys are lighting him up. It’s funny when guys say, ‘He can’t play defense,’ but how many times do you see guys say, ‘Let’s iso ’Melo.’ It doesn’t happen.”
“You can make the argument all you want that he’s not a defender but last time I checked, even when he’s playing against [Kevin] Durant and LeBron, they’re not just iso-ing ’Melo. ’Melo is strong and tough and he’s not just going to let you score, and on the other end he’s beating you up while he’s scoring.”
Beating Boston in the first round was a huge step for both Anthony and the Knicks. Anthony advanced past the opening round just once in his career – in 2009 with the Denver Nuggets – and the Knicks had not won a series since 2000, Wallace’s last season with the team.
Down by 1-0 in the Eastern Conference semifinals to the Indiana Pacers, Wallace said he expects the return of Amar’e Stoudemire and Steve Novak from injury.
“I’m not worried about us,” he said. “Amar’e is going to be back in a couple of games, hopefully. Novak is going to be back in a couple of games. We’re not full strength right now. I think we’re going to be full strength rather shortly here and I like our chances.”