You may have loved him in spite of his shortcomings, or because of them. You might have hated him for his attitude and ethos, but simply couldn't deny his talent. Or you may have dismissed him--too stubborn for his own good, he'd never be a winner. And having the chance to consider things over the past few weeks, maybe everyone was right.
Allen Iverson's career can be viewed a number of ways, as it all depends on what moments you view as definitive. If you choose to remember that 2001 season, and his 48 points in game one of the NBA Finals, beating the herculean Lakers, then that puts Iverson in a category with the best of them. On the other hand, if you remember Iverson bickering with coaches, or feuding with management, you may remember him differently; impossibly talented, but fatally flawed.
But just about everyone remembers him as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Had he gone out with someone else--say, the Knicks or Bobcats--we'd have gotten over it. Plenty of iconic stars finish out their careers in strange jerseys. It's a shame, but also a reality of the era we live in, and the egos involved in these type of things. Michael Jordan with the Wizards, Emmitt Smith with Arizona, Joe Montana with Kansas City, Shaq with the Suns, and now the Cavs, and whatever team he latches onto next season. At this point, we're used to it.
But Allen Iverson's was such a revolutionary figure... Seeing him reduced to 20 minutes-a-game off the bench for some also-ran team would have been so incongruous to everything that came before. He was basketball's 2Pac--rough around the edges, unapologetic to his critics, and authentic in every sense of the word. Without a doubt, had Iverson somehow died anywhere between 1999 and 2004, at his apex, we would have lionized him in exactly the same way.
Not for his game, but for the values he embodied. His game was always very good, but the persona--the corn rows, the tattoos, the crossovers, the fearlessness, playing-with-four-different injuries attitude--was what made him transcendent. Like nothing we'd ever seen before. A force of nature.
And watching him finish his career on a 20-win Knicks or Grizzlies squad would have been like seeing 2Pac record with autotune. We'd get over it, but some things are just impossible to forget. It'd change our memories forever.
Now, instead of trying to forget, the Sixers have given the entire league a chance to remember. To get all mushy over those Larry Brown teams, and pretend like the last three years never really happened. Like this has been the plan all along. Iverson's not perfect, and he meant a lot of different things to different people, but he was always a 76er.
When he went elsewhere, for whatever reason, the whole Iverson myth became marginialized. It was inevitable, really; people evolve and devolve, and as AI got older, it became harder and harder to exist exclusively on his own terms. Suddenly, Carmelo was more talented, Detroit played better with Rodney Stuckey, and even Memphis--Memphis!--decided they'd be better off without him. The indomitable, pint-sized icon had been dominated, and cast off into the NBA's junkyard.
But now, NBA fans are going to get one last glimpse at the glory days. A comeback tour. No more autotune 2Pac records, or playing second-fiddle to Richard Hamilton. Instead, Iverson's The Man in Philly again, and he's going to put them on his back and take them as far as he can. Iverson was never the best player on earth, and Tupac wasn't the greatest lyricist of all time. But in each case, their otherworldly will made them impossibly captivating. Not the best or most refined, but with a persona that always made him the center of attention.
Now, provided this is his last year in the NBA, Allen Iverson's going out the way he came in. On his own terms, killing himself to win, and carrying the 76ers and the city of Philadelphia with him. It was never his game that made him special, but that once-in-a-lifetime will is something we'll always remember. Now, we get to see it once more, and remember AI for what made him great in the first place. That's the way it should be.