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- The Gospel According to Allen Iverson
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Posted on September 10, 2009 | 2 Comments
When Allen Iverson stated that God chose Memphis for his next destination, it wasn’t the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. It’s not up there with, “I’m sure he’ll stop cheating on me once we get married.”, but it’s pretty stupid. See, the reason Iverson is now in Memphis is because he’s Allen Iverson.
During Allen Iverson’s rookie season, we were witness to a scoring output not seen since Michael Jordan entered the league. His quickness and fearlessness made up for his slight stature and made him an immediate fan favourite. The first head to head matchup with Jordan resulted in an ESPN highlight that wasn’t nearly exciting as people might remember, but it solidified his place, nonetheless.
While Iverson brought a ton of excitement to Philadelphia, what he didn’t bring is wins. his first season meant a four game improvement, to 22 wins. They went from second worst in the league to fifth worst. Certainly nothing to cheer about.
What 22 wins brought, though, was a chance at a high lottery pick, and Tim Duncan was the consensus number one pick. Unfortunately, due to Philadelphia grabbing the number one pick the previous year and selecting Iverson, the rules stated they couldn’t win again. And in what was basically a one man draft, they got the second pick and Keith Van Horn
Van Horn didn’t last long, and was traded away for a bunch of players that didn’t really help much. What did help the team and the career of Iverson was the hiring of coaching legend Larry Brown. Brown was renowned for being tough on his star players and his point guards. Iverson was both and he was known as a tad sensitive, so all eyes were on what seemed like a complete mismatch. Old school vs hip hop. It didn’t start off all that successful, as the Sixers missed the playoffs, yet again. It’s hard to place all the blame on Iverson for that, though, as the Sixers roster included, get this, Derrick Coleman, Benoit Benjamin and Tim Thomas, poster children for players who wasted vast amounts of talent.
Speaking of teammates, Iverson certainly went through his share of them, as Sixers management tried to find a player that would actually compliment Iverson. It was difficult. While Iverson was certainly talented, he was not easy to play with. He dominated the ball and took a ton of shots, leading the league in that category four times. Players who came through Philadelphia during Iverson’s tenure there included Jimmy Jackson, Jerry Stackhouse, Coleman, Thomas and Larry Hughes. It wasn’t until management realized that Iverson needed teammates who didn’t need the ball, because they wouldn’t get it. Iverson is a pretty good passer, but he does so when he can’t get a shot off, and he needed players who would be fine playing off the ball. All the time. The team that made it to the Finals included not one player, other than Iverson, that averaged more than 11.7 ppg. Basically, Iverson scored and everyone else played defense.
Obviously, though, Iverson did eventually make it to the Finals. It was his crowning year, as he finally seemed to put everything together, led the Sixers to the second best record in the league and won the MVP Award. It would be the last time Iverson ever made it that close to a Championship again. Two year later, Coach Brown was gone, the Sixers were back in the lottery, and Iverson was eventually traded to Denver. More on that later.
Of course, a post about Iverson wouldn’t be complete without a discussion about things besides basketball. It started even before he made the NBA when he spent the night in jail after a brawl in a bowling alley (??) while at Georgetown. He was eventually cleared, but controversy followed him wherever he went. There were reports of late and missed practices, and the famous “Practice? We’re talking about practice, here!” quote. Countless battles with Brown that had Brown apparently barge into the office of the team president (and part owner), Pat Croce, demanding they trade Iverson about every other week. And if it weren’t for Croce talking both Brown AND Iverson off their respective ledges once a week, there’s little doubt the pairing wouldn’t have lasted nearly as long as it did.
Then there were the stories. One I heard that stayed with me was when Iverson sold his house to a new teammate. This new teammate, and home owner whose name I can’t recall, found garbage bags full of money in the house that Iverson had left, as well as a car in the garage that he had forgotten to take. When the teammate called Iverson to tell him, Iverson didn’t seem to care, and told him he could keep it all. Iverson didn’t seem to understand how much money he had, or how to spend it. Although on the surface, he looked like a street smart bad boy, underneath, he was a naive, ultra-sensitive kid who never really matured.
One thing that has always bothered me about Iverson’s fans is how they excuse his behaviour. He’s looked up to because he doesn’t change for anyone, because he doesn’t conform, because he doesn’t sell out. He even hangs out with the same people, which apparently shows he’s stayed the same. All bullshit, by the way. First of all, the guy lives in a gated community in a multimillion dollar house, drives $100 thousand cars, has celebrity friends and wears jewelry worth more than most people in his neighbourhood makes in a year. He’s a walking billboard for dozens of multinational corporations, including Reebok, which sells his signature shoe to, among others, kids from his old neighbourhood who he knows can’t afford them. And change is something that comes with maturity. Iverson has remained a perpetual teenager because he’s been able to remain sheltered and plays a game for a living. How many 34 year olds still dress like a teenager, as he does?
With Iverson, it’s always been a question of of balance. Does his talent outweigh the headaches that come with him? Many times, the answer is no. Philadelphia famously nearly traded him to the Clippers before he led them to the Finals, and that seemed to motivate him. Eventually, though, Philadelphia did end up trading him to the Nuggets after the Sixers missed the playoffs two of the three years after Larry Brown left. Since Iverson was not helping the team on the court enough to make the playoffs, they felt it was simply not worth keeping him and putting up with everything. And Philadelphia actually played better without him, getting back into the playoffs the next season. Without Iverson dominating the ball, demanding a lion’s share of the shots and stunting the growth of his young teammates, like Andre Igoudala.
While Iverson was on his best behaviour in Denver, he never brought them what they wanted most from him, and that was playoff success. In fact, in his two playoff appearances playing for Denver, they only won one game. His tenure in Denver didn’t last very long, as he only played one full season with them before being traded to Detroit, for possibly the anti-Iverson- a team-first guy who is known to be a great team leader and mature player. Denver made it to the Western Conference Finals their first playoffs without Iverson.
Meanwhile, in Detroit, Iverson returned to his controversial ways when he was asked to come off the bench and claimed he had a back injury that would keep him out the rest of the season. For the first time in seven years, Detroit didn’t make it to at least the Conference Finals.
His first ever summer as a free agent, he didn’t find the offers come flooding in. In fact, most of the teams he was `connected to’ in the media had little to no interest in him. This was a guy who had only really found success under one of the greatest coaches in basketball history, and that was for a short period of time. In 13 seasons, Iverson has missed the playoffs four times, didn’t get past the first round four times, and has never had a full season where he didn’t take the most amount of shots on his team.
And this brings us to Memphis. Many question why they would choose each other. For Iverson, the answer is simple. He’s got no where else to go. Contenders don’t want to risk the chemistry of their team for a guy who will demand to take so many shots (at a low percentage), doesn’t play much defense any more, and may sulk if he doesn’t like the role assigned to him. Young teams don’t want him because he will stifle the development of younger players and set a bad example for young players whom coaches may want to take practice seriously.
As for Memphis, it may seem curious, but it makes perfect sense. With their trade for Zach Randolph, it’s obvious they are not looking for wins. What they are looking for are players who might attract fans. With Memphis, the bottom line IS the bottom line. They are getting a guy will will attract the fans, bring excitement and get them on the highlight reels. Nothing is worse than watching a bad team that can’t score. It’s much more entertaining to watch a bad team that scores a lot. And that’s pretty much what they’ll do.
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