Recently, I was searching the main topics on the ESPN home page and came across the debut of Allen Iverson in a Turkish League. He accounted for 15 points for the Turkish team, Besiktas, in the loss to Hemofarm. It’s kind of saddening to see that Iverson is no longer on a team in the NBA. AI, who has a career average of 26.7 points per game, is one of the most prolific scorers of all time. The four time scoring champion of the NBA and former 2000-2001 NBA Most Valuable Player is now playing in Turkey.
It’s remarkably sad how his career has been derailed over the past 3 NBA season. Let’s start from the top. At age 17, a young Iverson was with some thugs at a local bowling alley is Hampton, Virginia. While hanging out at the alley, a shouting match broke out among Iverson’s gang and a group of white young men. Eventually a fight erupted and it became a whites vs. blacks match. Iverson allegedly hit a woman in the head with a chair. Iverson was convicted as an adult on the felony charge of maiming by the mob. Apparently it is a rare to hear that in Virginia, since this designed to fight lynching. Crazy as that is, rumor and Iverson told people that he left the alley as soon as the fight began. Iverson calimed that “That’s crazy! And what kind of man would I be to hit a girl in the head with a damn chair? I would rather have them say I hit a man with a chair, not no damn woman!”
The public support that Iverson received in Hampton was incredible. It became a major issue of race in the city. Blacks for Iverson and the white folks against him. Eventually, Iverson was sentenced with 15 years in prison with 10 years suspended. After Iverson spent four months in prison, Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder, pardoned the young AI saying that there was not enough evidence. That was and will be for many years the biggest controversy in Hampton due to the racial tensions primarily.
A year after his whole controversial jail sentence, Iverson was recruited to Georgetown by the legendary coach John Thompson. AI left Georgetown after just two seasons. He was drafted first overall by the 76ers in the 1996 NBA draft, went on to win rookie of the year. He even crossed over the greatest basketball player of all-time in his rookie season. (Link below) Clearly AI was destined for greatness. One can only dream of crossing over Air Jordan. What would it be like to practically break Jordan’s ankles trying to steal the ball from you? Ask Iverson. He’s one of the only guys on the face of this planet that has just make “His Airness” look just plain silly.
AI went on to win multiple scoring titles, win an MVP, lead Philly to the NBA finals, and change the game of basketball. “The Answer,” as some people nicknamed him, wasn’t your normal face of the NBA type of person. His appearance was often criticized as being too thug. The tattoos, sagging jeans, the cornrows, the swagger just scarred people. His “thug friends,” constant cussing, fixed scowl, and hip hop clothing brought a change to the NBA. Some people thought he was a threatening black man with swagger. His cornrows were the first on anyone’s head in the NBA. He didn’t want to change his image. He wasn’t clean cut and didn’t want to wear a suit to and from game days. He was burned alive for not being a great leader to his team for not wanting to give his all at “practice.” He said “it’s not a game, not a game, we talking about practice.” He mentioned the word “practice” over 22 times in just a couple minute interview after a game. (For video check link below)
I believe we are all lucky that he never changed. It’s become standard for many ball players to wear the long protective sleeve that AI patented, the cornrows, and for players to bring the swagger to the basketball court. Iverson was the toughest basketball player I have ever seen in my life. He would get knocked down, injured, and take a physical beating every game yet would get back up and keep fighting. He’s definitely is one of the toughest pound for pound people on this planet.
Let’s fast forward to 2006, AI demanded a trade from the Philadelphia 76ers. The franchise granted it to him and sent him to Denver. He deferred to Carmelo Anthony and they became a dominant duo in the NBA. The only problem was that they were never able to win any playoff series. After two seasons where the Nuggets imploded in the playoffs, they sent him packing to Detroit for Chauncey Billups and other compliment pieces. While the Nuggets flourished with Billups replacing Iverson, the Pistons struggled mightily with Iverson. Denver went on the push the eventual champion Los Angeles to six games in the Western Conference finals, much farther than they had made it with Iverson running the offense. Meanwhile, AI started strong scoring 20 points per game in Detroit, only to have back problems end his season early.
Iverson then was a free agent and signed with the Memphis Grizzlies and complained openly that he should not be coming off the bench in any situation. After several games, he left the team citing personal reasons. Reports came out that Iverson was about to be divorced by his long time wife and had built up a huge debt gambling. Stephen A. Smith, one of the smartest and most knowledgeable NBA reporters, said that Iverson was either going to “drink himself into oblivion or gamble his life away.” He had already been banned from casinos in Atlantic City and Detroit. With his life in shambles, AI turned back to Philadelphia to finish the 2009-2010 season. When his press conference came on the television, I realized how much Iverson loves the city of Philadelphia and how grateful he is to the franchise when he cried in tears of joy while announcing he would finish his career at home in Philly. On December 7, 2009, Iverson came back home to Philly in front of a amped up, sold out crowd at the Wachovia Center. It was only fitting that the game was against the team that sent his career into a downward spiral, the Denver Nuggets. Although the 76ers lost the game that night, AI was introduced and given a warm welcome home by everyone in the arena. Showing his thanks and dedication to the franchise, Iverson kissed the 76ers logo at mid-court and was happy to be home yet again. He finished off the season and has clearly gotten his life back into order somewhat. Apparently he is not longer drinking as much and re-found his mentor in John Thompson, his former college coach at Georgetown.
So why isn’t this guy in the NBA? Why is he playing in Turkey? Although his personality and ego will never allow him to be a bench player, why doesn’t an NBA team at least try to put him there and make him feel wanted. How can one of the top 25 all time greats not be playing in America when he can still contribute to a team? His attitude isn’t right some may say, or he still thinks he can play like he did when he was 25. Well if I was the GM for a NBA team that was already a playoff contender, I’d do anything in my powers to convince Iverson that he is wanted, that he can win the championship he has long deserved, that he can bring back glory to his name, that he can show his toughness on the NBA court once again. Convince Iverson that he can be the 6th man off of the bench and still make an impact. Tell him you will put him in the game in the fourth quarter and in clutch possessions near the end of games. Why would I want him on my team? Because he has heart and doesn’t just play for the paycheck, he plays to win. Although Iverson is only a shell of his former self, he can still cross over almost anyone in the league and make anyone look silly at any time of the game. How awesome would it have been if the Oklahoma City Thunder had signed AI? GM Sam Presti convinced him that he is best and most dangerous off of the bench. AI would have taken the pressure to score off of Kevin Durant and would have been the spark that could have pushed the Thunder to the NBA Finals.
I can only hope that Iverson gains his way back into the NBA. I hope he signs with a contender in the Western Conference not named the LA Lakers, thus finishes his career coming off the bench, with his ego checked, crossing over LeBron James and the new Big Three in the NBA Championship. It would only be a fitting ending for the King of the Crossover, Allen Iverson.