SHE GOT BEN’S HEAD BACK IN THE GAME

Behind every good man, there’s a woman counting his rebounds. And Chanda Wallace didn’t like the numbers.

She doesn’t, as a rule, give a lot of basketball advice (I guess if your husband, Ben, is the NBA’s defensive player of the year, how much is needed?), but she knows her man. She knows the signs. And as any wife will tell you, one of those signs “is when he doesn’t get 10 rebounds. That’s when I get concerned.”

So Chanda sat Ben down after the first game of these NBA Finals against the Spurs, in which the Pistons were beaten soundly.

She asked if he needed anything.

He said no.

Was there anything she could do?

No, he was fine.

Men.

Then came Game 2. Another lackluster defeat. She spoke to him again. A little less June Cleaver, a little more Mae West.

“I said, ‘Before you go out there again, I’ll tell you what you’ve been looking like, just in case you think there is nothing wrong with you,’ ” Chanda said Wednesday. ” ‘You don’t look like you. Your game isn’t on.

” ‘You’ve had me here for two extra months, away from our family (in Virginia), away from our friends. Please have me here for a reason. And don’t say the reason is to see how far the team could go. You have to go all the way, or we’re wasting our time.’ “

Wow. Larry Brown never gave that talk.

But Wallace responded. He responded the way every husband from Abraham to Ralph Kramden has responded when his wife was not only honest, she was right.

He did what she said.

The other side of Big Ben

As a result, Wallace had a monster game, the Pistons got their first victory against the Spurs, and Chanda Wallace got mentioned on network TV, much to her surprise.

“I don’t know why he said anything,” she said. “Probably to tease me about it.”

Now, for those of us who have come to know Wallace as the stoic, close-lipped, tower of power who could absorb a small missile and barely squint his eyes, the idea of him teasing anyone is odd enough. Then you find out that Ben, in his courting days, “talked on the phone all night,” according to his wife. And that Ben, in her words, “is the big talker in the family” and, get this, “he’s hilarious.”

Are we talking about the same giant?

Well, nobody knows you like your spouse. And Chanda Wallace, who met her future husband through a mutual acquaintance, and who was so wary of him being a college star that she took a friend with her on their first date, also knows that these past few weeks have been heavy for her husband. He lost a childhood friend named Anthony in a car crash in Alabama. Then another college friend lost his child in a fire. Then, Ben’s 2-year-old son, Bryce, had to undergo emergency hernia surgery.

“He carries a lot on the inside,” Chanda said, “but I know him so well, it shows in the little things. He might give his son an extra squeeze or stare at him while he’s sleeping, and I just know. He’s thinking about it all.”

Life with a hoops star

Game after game, in the tunnels of the Palace – or any NBA venue – you will see the wives of the players, waiting for their husbands, chatting, holding children, looking like a fashion show in glitzy clothes and high heels. But there is a burden on all whose spouses’ lives go up and down with victory and defeat: They go up and down with them.

You think you have a bad day if the Pistons don’t win? Imagine having to navigate your partner through those waters. Everyone has a different routine. Some serve a quiet dinner. Some don’t speak. Some speak of anything except basketball.

Some count rebounds.

“I heard something about Chanda talking to Ben,” Chauncey Billups said after practice. He grinned. “That sounds about right.”

Maybe they should sign her up. The intensity Wallace showed Tuesday is an absolute must tonight and Sunday for the Pistons to do what they must do, win all the games at home in this series. If a few choice words from his wife can inspire, isn’t that worth a spot on the bench?

Or maybe the stands will suffice. After Game 3, as Ben left the court, he looked up to where his wife was sitting. “He never does that,” she said. “When we get home, he’ll say, ‘Who were you on the phone with in the third quarter?’ so I know he’s looking sometimes, but he never lets me see.

“Tuesday night, as he was walking off the court, he pointed at me and waved.”

And what did you do?

“I pointed back and said, ‘I told you.’ “

As wives often do.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. He will sign books on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at Borders in Birmingham, 2 p.m. at Barnes & Noble in Northville and 4:30 p.m. at Borders Express at Great Lakes Crossing in Auburn Hills.

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