I’ve never played professional sports, and I’ve never retired. So though I might not be the best source, here’s my advice to Ben Wallace:
Take your time.
Often, athletes are peppered with questions about retirement and hear from fans who selfishly want to remember their stars only at their peaks. Eventually, those constant hints of retirement infiltrate players’ decision-making, and before many know it, the choice is no longer truly theirs.
That’s what I think happened to Michael Jordan in 1999. All season, the Bulls were told they were on a final run. His last shot over Bryon Russell perfectly fit the narrative, and Jordan became convinced and retired. But his competitive spirit wasn’t broken, and his physical skills hadn’t significantly diminished. He could still play, and that’s why he didn’t stay retired, coming back with the Wizards.
So, Ben, take your time. Don’t succumb to that outside pressure to prematurely make your decision. You know better than anyone else whether you’ll still have the physical ability and mental will to play next season.
If you do – so long as your family supports it, which is way too personal for me to have any advice on – play.
Law school can wait. Basketball can’t.
I think it’s tremendous that you want to pursue a second career as a lawyer. If that enriches your life, that would be great in itself. I also think you have the potential to inspire many that there are other avenues once basketball dries up.
But the window of being able to play basketball professionally is small, and if you step away now, there’s a very likely chance it closes. If your mental will to play returns in a year, who knows if your physical ability will remain?
Selfishly, I hope you return. I love watching you play, and getting another year to do that would be a treat. But don’t do it for me. I’ve seen enough. Your nine great years with the Pistons is more than anything I could’ve asked for.
You already decided to retire once before, when the Cavaliers traded you to Phoenix. Even then, you admitted retiring had been on your mind for a while. I hope you don’t retire only because the thought of retirement has been stuck in your head for a while. If it’s the right time, that’s one thing. But don’t retire only because it seems like the logical and inevitable conclusion. That’s not an easy distinction to parse and will take a fair amount of introspection. So, I’ll reiterate my advice:
Take your time.