A Q&A with former NBA basketball player Ben Wallace
Most basketball fans in Michigan recognize Ben Wallace as an iconic figure in Detroit Pistons lore. The 6-foot, 9-inch center helped lead the Pistons to an NBA title in 2004, just one highlight in the four-time all-star’s career. Since retiring in 2012, Wallace has adjusted to life after basketball. His business pursuits also have tied him to West Michigan after he recently bought a stake in Kalamazoo-based Green Door Distilling Co. and also partnered with Rair Cannabis of Michigan, which maintains a location in Lowell, to develop a brand of cannabis products called ‘Undrafted.’ MiBiz caught up with the Hall of Fame player to talk business, basketball and his love for Grand Rapids.
Professional basketball careers can be short for some players, but yours lasted more than a decade. What’s the mindset coming out of the league and figuring out what ventures to pursue next?
It’s definitely one of those things where you have to be careful where you put your money. You have to be aware of who you’re going into business with. It’s one of those things where you have to do your due diligence and hope you choose the right brand or the right marketing strategy.
You owned a minority stake in the Grand Rapids Drive (now the Grand Rapids Gold) for a few years before divesting upon taking your role with the Detroit Pistons. During your time here, what did you think of Grand Rapids and its ability to sustain a G-League team?
I love Grand Rapids. I appreciate Grand Rapids and what it allowed me to do as far as coming down and allowing me to work with the Drive. I definitely think Grand Rapids’ fan base can support a G-League team like they have been doing. I saw a lot of appreciation from the community and I look for that to continue to happen.
I think the G-League is such a huge part of NBA basketball right now. A lot of guys are going to come through that G-League system.
And that’s where you connected with Grand Rapids Gold President Steve Jbara, who also owns Green Door Distilling Co. What led you to invest in the distillery?
Yes, Steve and I were partnered with the Drive and when he mentioned the opportunity for me to get involved in Green Door, I knew he did good work and was passionate about things that he would get into as far as business. As far as an opportunity, it was pretty much a no-brainer. I went down to visit, saw what they had going on, and I really liked the idea.
Green Door announced that you planned to release your own brand of spirit. How involved are you in that process?
I’m very active in it. We did some things when I went to visit and had an opportunity to get into the distillery and see how things really work. I’m going to be very active in coming up with my own type of liquor.
What were your thoughts on the Kalamazoo community and how Green Door might be able to continue building a mutually beneficial relationship with it?
I looked at Kalamazoo like I looked at my hometown in Alabama — very small and the majority of the people knows everybody else. The community supports its businesses. So hopefully the community will rally around us, too, and we can make an impact.
You have your own line of cannabis products with Rair. In an industry that is quickly becoming saturated with products, how can you make your products stand out?
What partners you pick and what type of advertising and marketing that you do. And how well you represent your brand and how well your brand represents you. My brand represents my path to making it to the NBA and becoming a Hall of Famer.
Last fall, the Pistons hired you on as an adviser to the coach and general manager. What’s your day-to-day like and what’s the outlook for a team that has struggled for a number of years now?
I do a lot of stuff with player development and mentoring players. Guys will ask me about what I used to do. It was something that I thought would work out for me. So, I got a chance and everything has been great and I’ve had fun working with the team.
The sky’s the limit for this team. It’s a young team with a huge upside. Guys come out and play hard and play well together. It’s just one of those things that every young team has to suffer the growing pains to get to that next level. Right now, the guys are playing hard and responding to the things we ask them to do in practice.