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What can you say at this point? This year, I've defended Allen Iverson's legacy, explained away his shortcomings, and lauded the marriage with the 76ers, and that's just since he left Memphis. But now it's all over. Two months earlier than expected, and all we can do is scratch our heads. From Comcast Sports Net in Philly:
Allen Iverson will not return to the Sixers this season, a source has confirmed. Iverson joined the Sixers on Dec. 2 as a free agent. He made his debut in his second tour of duty Dec. 7 against the Nuggets, one of his former teams, and provided energy and leadership for a total of 24 games.
In early February, Iverson left the team for personal reasons and missed five games and the NBA All-Star Game, which would have been his 11th consecutive All-Star appearance. On the Monday following the break, he disclosed that it was his four-year-old daughter Messiah that was ill, but they were still unclear of her ailment. Iverson played in three games from Feb. 15 through Feb. 20 before leaving again to be with his family.
Uh... So much for the storybook ending in Philadelphia? It should be noted that Iverson's rumored to be dealing with family health issues that have prompted his prolonged absences from Philly. It should also be noted that when Iverson missed the All-Star Game to attend to family issues, there were rumors that he was seen in Philadelphia partying with friends. His family lives in Atlanta. (Ed. note: he also spent this past weekend partying with Jermaine Dupri in Charlotte). So without passing judgment, it's safe to say this latest news is difficult to dissect. And really, it's just another turn in what's been an incredibly bizarre journey since this past September.
Seriously. Just think back to all that's happened to Iverson over the past few months. Rumors, redemption, getting released, returning home... And those are just the things that start with the letter 'r'. There has been more Iverson news in the past six months than there's been about Tim Duncan in the past six years. It's worth looking back at the three SB Nation StoryStreams that have chronicled this strange trip.
To that end, just for some perspective, let's go back over some of the stories from the past few months. Remember when it was August and Iverson didn't have a team yet?
Over the summer, just before we'd launched (as the rest of the NBA left Iverson twisting in the wind as a free agent), the Iverson story spawned the creation of Fake Scoop Jackson, my tireless and completely sarcastic Iverson advocate....
The young man gets older, he gets bolder. Soon, he's an empire. Owns it all now. Commercials, MVP trophies, and the city of the brotherly love that always finds a way to hate. They love the young man, though. His name is Allen, but streets is calling, and all they say is two letters. A. I.
Bubba Chuck. Cru Thik. Entourage before HBO made it corny. Hip Hop. Killin 'em softly. Sentence fragments for emphasis. Homeboy from Virginia Beach taking over the world. Black people. Haters take a number; they hated Christ, too.
The Finals. Steppin over Tyronn Lue. Cold. Some say pity the fool, but there's no mercy in war. Basketball as metaphor for The Struggle. Nobody gets it, but we understand. They watch him, but we See him. Yessir.
That was then. Good Times. Not getting hassled, not getting hustled. Keepin your head above water, makin a wave when you can. Scratchin' and survivin. Good Times.
Now, the Haters are back. The show got cancelled. Hip Hop is dead. Ain't no love in the heart of the city. Olympiakos? The Bloods have a squad in Greece? Nah. Can't be. Our young man can't be runnin' to Europe. Not possible. We're talkin about Hall of Fame game. He's not the same player, but damn if he can't still help a team. Where's the love?
Then in September, when he was negotiating with Memphis:
Former MVP Allen Iverson may have finally found a new team. Last night, Iverson tweeted:
"I am looking forward to meeting the owner of the Memphis Grizzlies on tomorrow, along with his staff. I want to help them develop a winner."
Good luck building a winner in Memphis. But seriously, this is a good move for both sides. Iverson wants to stay in the NBA (despite potential big money offers in Europe) and the Grizzles need the shot of fan excitement Iverson will provide, even as a reserve. According to the Detroit Free-Press, the Grizzles are expected to offer a one-year deal in the neighborhood of $3.5 million.
Then he officially signed, and tweeted the news. Divine inspiration, via Twitter:
And I defended the move because I'm an idiot:
Signing Allen Iverson seems like a transparent ploy to sell tickets, a desperate move by a downtrodden organization in a down economy. Whether that retards the development of rising stars like Rudy Gay, OJ Mayo, and (so far wildly disappointing) Mike Conley remains to be seen. Still, you'd think if the Grizzlies were truly trying to build a winner, adding players like Iverson and Zach Randolph wouldn't be the preferred course.
One counterpoint, though: while many would question the wisdom of bringing on someone like Allen Iverson--and lord knows Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace deserves plenty of questioning for just about everything he does--this could end up as a major coup for Memphis. Iverson has seen his legacy decay over the past few years, and I have a feeling he's due for a sort of renaissance this season. ... just when everyone was ready to put Iverson out to pasture, he could surprise some people in Memphis this year.
A few days later, he was introduced in Memphis, where he was given a guitar:
It was a match made in heaven... Of course, who could have predicted a torn hamstring?
Finally, what about Rudy Gay, OJ Mayo, and the rest of the young Grizzlies? It's not as if Memphis was pegged for the playoffs at the start of this year, but if they're to make any noise at all, the younger Grizzlies will have to mesh well with Iverson. And obviously, his absence hurts that cause. A.I. calls himself a "quick healer," but likely forgets that he's older now. And he's in Memphis, where's there's bad karma for eons, the "culture" is one of a perennial loser, and fans may or may not show up to games.
Winning in Memphis--and selling it--is tough enough. On Iverson, Gay, Coach Lionel Hollins, everybody. And unfortunately, Iverson's hamstring just made it all a little bit harder.
After missing the entire preseason, Iverson made his Grizzlies debut against Sacramento in the fourth game of the season. And immediately began complaining about playing time:
Iverson made his season debut with Memphis Monday night in a 127-116 OT loss to the Kings. He scored 11 points off 5-9 shooting in just 17 minutes on the court. That last bit has A.I. less-than-satisfied. His postgame comments:
"I had no problems (with the hamstring). I had a problem with my butt sitting on that bench for so long," Iverson said.
"I’m not a bench player. I’m not a sixth man," Iverson said. "Look at my resume and that’ll show I’m not a sixth man. I don’t think it has anything to do with me being selfish. It’s just who I am. I don’t want to change what gave me all the success that I’ve had since I’ve been in this league. I’m not a sixth man. And that’s that."
Just a few weeks later, Iverson took a leave of absence from the team for "personal reasons":
The NBA season is not yet two weeks old, and already, the Allen Iverson experiment in Memphis could be termed a failure. The latest development in an already sordid affair has Iverson headed back to his offseason home, Atlanta, after asking to leave the team to deal with a "personal matter." ...
While Iverson's absence doesn't necessarily signal the end of his time with the Griz, it's yet another instance of Iverson separating himself from his teammates and coaches. And with a coaching staff that already has ample reason to resent Iverson--after Michael Heisley ignored basketball advice and signed him despite their objections--it adds fuel to a fire that's been fanned extensively over the past few weeks. Iverson missed the entire preseason after showing up out of shape, publicly criticized his coaches when he finally did play, and now, he's left the team in frustration, after consulting with not the coaching staff or meeting with his teammates, but Memphis owner Michael Heisley.
Then we all wondered, "Is that it for Iverson?" And Chad Ford answered:
So, sensing the end of an era, I got all mushy and sentimental:
Iverson was, and is, unique. A generation of anti-authority, corn-rowed, tattoo-covered superstars never came--instead, hindsight leaves stars like Stephon Marbury and Iverson looking like history's accident, a brief blip on the radar between the Jordan era and contemporary times, with deferential stars like Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, and Chris Paul taking up the torch from Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan, two guys who, in every concievable way, are the antithesis of Iverson's ethos.
Iverson never got to carry that torch, after all.
And that's sort of hard to stomach. Because however misguided we were in assigning this deeper meaning to Allen Iverson, it was very real, and he represents a generation of fans that came to understand basketball through a cultural prism that was established with him at the forefront. And yet, if this is how it ends for AI, then it sort of undermines everything, doesn't it?
And for someone that spent his youth as a basketball fan waiting for that era, it's hard to accept that reality. It's like the whole experience--the Reebok Commercials, the All-Star Games, the hair, Tyronn Lue, that damn press conference... It's like none of it mattered. And Iverson's reduced to just someone that was supposed to make history, but never did.
But God damn he was quick...
Then Memphis officially released him and this picture got even weirder:
But just when we thought it was over... The Knicks showed interest and my colleague Mike Prada showed enthusiasm:
You know what? This might actually work. The Knicks may be one of the few teams in the league that can give Iverson the starting job he so desperately craves. Right now, the Knicks start Chris Duhon, a backup on any decent team, and Larry Hughes, whose shot-happy ways convinced one fan to create a site called "Hey Larry Hughes, Please Stop Taking So Many Bad Shots." Everyone around the Knicks knows this season doesn’t really matter anyway, so why not try to generate a little buzz?
Then, Iverson-to-the-Knicks seemed like a foregone conclusion...
"The answer to The Answer appears to be yes" writes Frank Isola in the New York Daily News.
Until it wasn't... And the Knicks said no to Iverson:
So, it’s official now: the New York Knicks will not be pursuing Allen Iverson. Why? Knicks GM and President Donnie Walsh speaks, and Howard Beck reports:
"We’re not going to be making additions at this time to our team. So I guess that ends the speculation about Allen Iverson. It really has nothing to do with Allen Iverson. It’s just a stage that our team is in right now …what we’ve been trying to do since we got here in building a team for the future. It did get interesting for awhile, because Allen’s a great player, has always been a great player."
It’s a diplomatic way to play it for sure, saying this decision wasn’t an indication of Iverson, the player, but of the direction of the current roster. To which one can only respond… "Um, what direction?"
3/4 of the Knicks roster is a free agent this season—if that’s the foundation for the future, it’s built on qualifying-offer quicksand. Which is fine. That’s been the Knicks plan all along. But with respect to AI, the Knicks’ reluctance to sign him has nothing to do with longterm plans, and everything to do with immediate concerns about Allen Iverson.
Then, in his retirement statement, Allen Iverson said (hint, hint) "I have a lot left in my tank":
"I still have tremendous love for the game, the desire to play, and a whole lot left in my tank. I feel strongly that I can still compete at the highest level."
And just like that, the 76ers ears perked up:
According to Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, the 76ers brass, including coach Eddie Jordan and team president Ed Stefanski, are meeting with Allen Iverson as we speak (mid-afternoon on Monday) about potentially signing him.
"Head coach Eddie Jordan and president Ed Stefanski are meeting with Iverson to discuss the possibility of bringing the 10-time All-Star back to Philadelphia."
Next thing you know, Iverson was back with the 76ers and crying at his introductory press conference:
For basketball fans of a certain age, it was a truly beautiful moment. So of course I went and compared Allen Iverson to Tupac Shakur:
As Iverson said yesterday, fighting back tears, "They love me … And I love them." And like everything with Iverson, it feels authentic.
Though, just like Tupac, it feels out of character when considered alongside some of his tirades. A person that’s liable to lash out at his inner circle one day, and then bear his soul to the world the next. How do you make sense of someone like that? Is it possible for someone to be ruthless and vulnerable at the same time?
It’s a tough question; but when you talk about Iverson in Philly, and the Sixers fans celebrating his return, make no mistake: they love him because of moments like yesterday. The moments when he lets us in; when he shows you that despite everything you’ve heard, he cares more than you could possibly imagine.
"Thug," maybe; but "heartless" just doesn’t apply.
From there, he made his 76ers debut against the Denver Nuggets, and reality set in. The Sixers were a different team, with a different coach:
Philly fans wanted the storybook ending tonight’s game. Allen Iverson returns and leads the Sixers to victory, squashing their losing streak and bringing a little excitement back to town. Unfortunately reality set in a little earlier than expected in the Sixers’ loss to the Nuggets.
Sixers blog Liberty Ballers wasn’t a fan of the Iverson signing but held out hope as long as they could:
"The Iverson honeymoon lasted for about three quarters and then reality set in. If he’s used correctly and surrounded by good defense, much like 2001, he can provide a spark to the much-maligned half court offense come April, and put the Sixers in position to advance past the first round for the first time since 2003. Unfortunately, none of that is possible with EJ at the helm. As a matter of fact, EJ will turn the Iverson signing into a top 5 pick — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if a couple ping pongs bounce the Sixers way."
And after things (finally) quieted down from a national perspective, the next we heard about Iverson, he had been voted into the NBA All-Star Game:
As for Iverson, this is really the only stage where he matters anymore. Iverson, the symbol, is far more compelling than AI, the player. And where else but All-Star Weekend can we celebrate the idealized version of NBA basketball?
Looking for the league’s ten best players? Then wait for the All-NBA lists at the end of the year. The All-Star Game’s an event conceived with the fans in mind, and Iverson won their hearts a long time ago. As long as he’s active, he’ll be starting at shooting guard, delighting the tens of millions of fans that still look to him as a counter-culture hero.
But he would delight no one... He skipped the All-Star game as we mentioned above, part of a larger trend that saw Iverson quietly receding from the spotlight, both in Philadelphia and the league, in general. It was one thing to not play in the All-Star Game, but for Iverson to skip the weekend altogether? Something's up. According to Sports Illustrated, Iverson's absences have been to care for his ailing daughter, in which case this all makes more sense.
But even so. Just scan through the stories above. Can you remember a stranger chain of events than the journey of Allen Iverson over the past six months? And while Iverson may seem like a bit player in the grand scheme of the NBA--he's only a few years removed from being the biggest NBA star on the planet, and as noted above, he's still popular enough to get voted a starter in the All-Star game for as many years as he chooses to play.
So it's not like this is happening to any old player. We're talking about Iverson, the most polarizing figure in sports, bouncing back-and-forth throughout the league, and now, quietly getting released by the hometown team, where he was supposed to ride into the sunset triumphantly. It's still early and we'll need some perspective before we can truly make sense of all that's transpired, but good lord. It's one of the strangest NBA stories in recent years.
What ever happened to Allen Iverson? When we think back on Allen Iverson twenty years from now, that's a question we're probably going to be asking a lot. But to anyone that's watched the Iverson saga unfold, it's a question that could just as easily be asked right now. Really, what happened to Allen Iverson?
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