‘Big Ben’ Wallace strengthens business ties with West Michigan

Q&A with former NBA basketball player Ben Wallace

MMost Michigan basketball fans recognize Ben Wallace as an iconic figure in Detroit Pistons lore. The 6-foot-9 center helped the Pistons win an NBA title in 2004, a single highlight in the four-time star player’s career. Since retiring in 2012, Wallace has adapted to life after basketball. His business pursuits have also tied him to western Michigan after recently buying a stake in Kalamazoo-based Green Door Distilling Co. and also partnering with Rair Cannabis of Michigan, which maintains a location in Lowell, to develop a brand of cannabis products called ‘Unfished.’ MiBiz caught up with the Hall of Fame player to talk business, basketball and his love for Grand Rapids.

Professional basketball careers may be short for some players, but yours has lasted over a decade. What is your mindset coming out of the league and figuring out what businesses to pursue next?

It’s definitely one of those things where you have to be careful where you put your money. You need to know who you are dealing with. This is one of those things where you have to do your due diligence and hope that you choose the right brand or marketing strategy.

You held a minority stake in Grand Rapids Drive (now Grand Rapids Gold) for a few years before divesting it when you took your role with the Detroit Pistons. During your time here, what did you think of Grand Rapids and its ability to support a G-League team?

I love Grand Rapids. I enjoy Grand Rapids and what it has allowed me to do in terms of downhill and being able to work with the Drive. I really think the Grand Rapids fan base can support a G-League team like they have. I’ve seen a lot of appreciation from the community and I hope that continues to happen.

I think the G-League is such an important part of NBA basketball right now. A lot of guys are going to go through this G-League system.

And that’s where you met the president of Grand Rapids Gold, Steve Jbara, who also owns Green Door Distilling Co. What led you to invest in the distillery?

Yes, Steve and I were associated with the Drive and when he mentioned the opportunity for me to get involved with Green Door, I knew he was doing a great job and was passionate about the things he was into. would start in business. As for an opportunity, it was pretty much a no-brainer. I went to visit them, saw what they had to do and really liked the idea.

Green Door has announced that you plan to release your own brand of spirits. How involved are you in this process?

I am very active there. We did some things when I went to visit and I had the opportunity to walk into the distillery and see how things really work. I will be very active in finding my own type of alcohol.

What do you think of the Kalamazoo community and how Green Door could continue to build a mutually beneficial relationship with them?

I looked at Kalamazoo like I looked at my hometown in Alabama – very small and the majority of people know everyone. The community supports its businesses. So I hope the community will also rally behind us 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?

Which partners you choose and what type of advertising and marketing you do. And how much you represent your brand and how much your brand represents you. My brand represents my journey to make it to the NBA and become a Hall of Famer.

Last fall, the Pistons hired you as coach advisor and general manager. What is your daily life and what are the prospects for a team that has been struggling for several years now?

I do a lot of things with player development and mentorship. Guys will ask me what I was doing. It was something that I thought would work for me. So, I had a chance and everything went well and I had fun working with the team.

The sky is the limit for this team. They are a young team with a huge advantage. Guys go out and play hard and play well together. It’s just one of those things that every young team has to go through the growing pains of 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.

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