What Would Happen to AI's Image with Clips?

I didn't exactly predict Allen Iverson would find great success in Detroit. But I felt the move could work, and thought it had implications that were bigger than basketball. That it was an unmitigated disaster pretty much invalidated my loftier predictions, and I've actually hoped that column would disappear in whatever the Internet equivalent of a warehouse fire is. ↵
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↵But now, things have gone from bad to surreal for Allen Iverson. The signature player of the immediate post-Jordan era, a figure who both electrified fans and supposedly threatened the very existence of the NBA, a polarizing figure whose significance borders on political ... is now more or less irrelevant. Teams seem interested in signing him only because they can for cheap, and after that Pistons debacle, he's even lost some of the near-universal respect around the league that always ensured his credibility. ↵
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↵Maybe Iverson should just walk away, lest he risk any further embarrassment or ammunition for those avowed enemies of his. But that's just not the way Iverson does things. Even if he stands for very little these days, AI still wants to prove the world -- and possibly himself -- that this fiercest of underdogs will yet rise again. You'd never call Iverson "scrappy" -- he's both more and less earthy than that, a virtuosic talent whose competitive instincts, however warped, can border on a life-and-death intensity. The question is, what exactly can Iverson do to redeem himself, or at least tack a reputable coda onto his stormy career. Or maybe just a notable one. ↵
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↵One of the earliest possibilities brought up was AI to Memphis, which would be the equivalent of being put out to pasture in Siberia. Over the last week or so, we've also heard whispers that Iverson might join forces with Dwyane Wade in Miami. There's no way of knowing exactly how you'd play Iverson and Wade together -- both are used to being the focal point of the offense. I just don't see the two achieving a Monroe-Frazier like synergy; their respective games, however versatile, are just too dominant. Regardless, compared to Memphis, AI could break even in Miami, though with a possibility of a messy repeat of Denver. ↵
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↵Then, out of the blue, came word that Iverson was seriously considering the Clippers. The Clippers, who in addition to being the worst franchise in pro sports, are also one whose owner, Donald Sterling, is facing discrimination-related lawsuits from former GM Elgin Baylor and a host of families who either rented or sought to rent apartments in buildings he owned. We can argue for days about whether players should let these charges affect their relationship with the Clippers' front office; it was easier to hold to a separation of court and court when you didn't have Baylor, who had been the front office, saying the same kind of stuff. ↵
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↵Certainly, Iverson wouldn't be the only African-American playing for the Clippers, nor the only we might expect to take umbrage at Sterling's track record. Elton Brand stuck with that team forever; he's a smart dude, and George Pataki once suggested he could have a career in politics. Recent addition Baron Davis may not have done much on the court, but he was very active, very early on, in the Obama campaign. And yet while both Brand and Davis are substantively more engaged than Iverson, neither is Allen Iverson. ↵
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↵For years, Iverson stood for an uncompromising, unapologetic expression of a certain kind of African-American experience, albeit in the form of a multimillion dollar athletes. But like Muhammad Ali, he was the kind of player whose style took on a cultural meaning that thrilled some and terrified others. Who knows if Iverson even cares about politics per se. Yet seeing him sign with the Clippers would force us to question just how much he cared about the iconic status foisted upon him. Would he even comment on this marriage of convenience? Do anything to counteract the damage Sterling has reputedly done? Those are pipe dreams, to be sure, but remains preferable to confronting the cold, hard possibility that Iverson might join the Clippers in the name of cold, hard cash. ↵
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↵It's a wonder no European team has made Iverson a serious offer. Or what about a Chinese franchise? They've probably stayed away because they know he'd never leave the NBA. Iverson wants to go down fighting, in a way that matters, with the whole world seeing that, yet again, they'd underestimated him. If he does it in a Clipper uniform, though, exactly how much stock do we put in this final act? I can't make that call, but it certainly doesn't jibe with the myth of Allen Iverson up to this point.
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↵For more NBA coverage, visit SportingNews.com's new NBA blog, The Baseline.↵

This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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