Today, ESPN’s Bill Simmons wrote a surprisingly good piece about the Allen Iverson situation in Philadelphia. It would appear that Simmons hasn’t completely lost his once-formidable writerly chops, and if his editors could keep him from mailbags and the inanities of Boston sports, perhaps he would find a personal renaissance. Regardless, Simmons topic was A.I., seasoned with the Celtics, but A.I. nonetheless, and since the Curious Mechanism has a backlog of Things-to-Write, we might as well address something our local papers are obligated to write about constantly, even as nothing has been happening.
First, an anecdote from Simmons’
There’s another aspect to Iverson’s brilliance, something the ESPN guys tried to describe last night: Quite simply, he’s the most menacing player in the league. There’s just something different about him, a darker edge that the other stars don’t have. Once I was sitting midcourt at the Fleet Center when Iverson was whistled for a technical, yelped in disbelief, then followed the referee toward the scorer’s table and screamed, “[Bleep] you!” at the top of his lungs. The official whirled around and pulled his whistle toward his mouth for a second technical.
And I swear on my daughter’s life, the following moment happened: As the official started to blow the whistle, Iverson’s eyes widened and he moved angrily toward the official, almost like someone getting written up for a parking ticket who decides it would just be easier to punch out the meter maid. For a split-second, there was real violence in the air. Of course, the rattled official lowered his whistle and never called the second T. By sheer force of personality, Iverson kept himself in the game.
This is something we have always loved about Iverson. He is, perhaps, as competitive as any American athlete today. Off the court, he is distinctly honest, direct, and intelligent. He uses enough slang and dispenses enough grammatical disasters to come off as unintelligent and ignorant to an older generation of basketball fans. For those who are willing to tolerate his lack of traditional eloquence, he’s thoughtful, soft-spoken, and intelligent. Over the summer, as trade rumors flew, Iverson participated in an event where, for at least an hour, on live television, fans from an audience were allowed to ask him questions, directly. About his time with the Sixers, about feuds with various coaches and players, and about all the trade speculation that was occuring. He answered them all as best he could, reiterated that he still wanted to be a Sixer, that he wanted to retire as a Sixer. We recall remarking amongst ourselves at the time, “If Billy King trades Iverson, he better get something back for him, and he better send him somewhere worthwhile.” After all, this was a player who had busted his ass for his team (literally, in the 2001 playoffs) for years, who always wore his emotions on his sleeved, who never bothered with cliches or hackneyed apologies for outrageous behavior. As much as Iverson came off like a thug, only once did he get in trouble with the police in Philadelphia, on a charge so ludicrous that the city collectively laughed it off before it was quickly dropped. He was different from most NBA players–too small, too different, too well behaved. He embodied Philadelphia. Certainly, the city was often divided regarding their opinions on Iverson–he wasn’t universally adored here, but it’s easy to say a majority loved his play.
And yet, despite this good off-court behavior, and great on-court play, from the Sixers organization he has faced nothing but criticism over an 11 year career. Whether about his dress, his attitude, his practice habits, his attendance–there was always something wrong with Allen Iverson. We believe Iverson wanted to remain a Sixer. We also believe president Ed Snider’s buffoonery and GM Billy King’s incompetence have forced Iverson out. He is an ultra-competitor playing for a team that cannot win, going home to hear his bosses complaining about everything he does. There’s no reason for him to stay, and we can’t expect him to stay for the fans, when the fans have ceased showing up on a nightly basis to watch his spectacular brand of play.
So, with no other option, we watch in rapture as the rumors pile and the trade scenarios develop and we hope the stars align to send Iverson to Minnesota. We’ve heard they have no interest, even though their best player has a lot of interest. We’ve also heard they don’t have “enough” to offer the Sixers, but, as a fan, we’d be satisfied with a 1st round pick (understood that next year can’t happen, but how about 2008?), Randy Foye, and some contract they don’t want? How about that?
We want the Sixers to win, obviously, but if Allen can’t retire a Sixer, we’d at least like him to retire a winner.