With Questions About His Future, Fans and Iverson Are Looking for the Answer
I'll never forget when it happened to me.
It was two years ago at Princeton University Gym and no matter how hard I pushed I couldn't do it. I couldn't catch my younger brother and stop him from making the game winning lay-up. That's when I first began to wonder if the game had passed me by.
For the 33 year old two-guard that time may have come and gone.
After missing 16 games with a back injury, Coach Michael Curry brought Iverson off the bench for the past few games. Iverson, obviously frustrated hasn't really embraced his new role.
Going so far as to say that next season if he has to ride the pine, he'll just retire. The silence was deafening.
Five years ago, when I was still stride for stride with little bro, this would have been a huge story. There would have been a retrospective of Iverson's highlights, focusing on the tough shots he's hit, the punishment he's taken, the amazing plays he's made.
How the generously listed 6'0" guard is pound for pound the best player in the game and he deserves to start.
Instead the general consensus is that Allen needs to learn to be a "team player" and do what's best for the team. The underlying message in that statement is that Iverson starting is not what's best for the team.
Adding fuel to the fire is the All-Star is being made into the scapegoat for a team with other glaring issues (age, no bench, no leadership, bad coaching, uninspired players...)
So coming to the end, I wonder if Allen finds himself looking back. I know I do.
"With the first pick in the 96' NBA Draft the 76ers select..."
Now I gotta be honest, back then I was not watching the 76ers. I had written them off and focused my attention on Dykstra and Schilling and of course on the pairing of Lindros and Leclair that had everyone painting their faces Orange and Black.
Needless to say I could care less about some Point Guard from Georgetown of all places.
He won me over with one crossover move against a legend. Not because he made Michael Jordan stumble and then drilled a jumper in his face, but because he wasn't afraid to. Here was this tough little guy from VA looking the titans of the NBA in the eye and daring them to blink first and I was loving every second of it.
Not that long ago someone in the Sixers brain trust thought rail thin, athletically challenged Shawn Bradley was a lottery pick. And not long before that traded Charles Barkley for a bag of nickels and a Slinky.
So for them to finally make the right choice, after so many bad ones, I can't describe how it felt, but I'm sure you get the idea.
Back then it seemed like the best thing for the team was Allen Iverson and then the question was could teammates adapt to playing with such a dynamic player.
Still he and Brown constantly clashed which nearly led to the unthinkable. But for the greed of Matt Geiger Iverson would have been a member of the Detroit Pistons, eight years ahead of schedule.
Then the amazing happened, Iverson promised all who would listen that he turned the corner and that marriage and being a father matured him. His words seemed prophetic as that year was his best as a pro; All Star MVP, League MVP, Scoring champ and finally Eastern Conference Champion.
Brown and Iverson were co-existing, winning, and you couldn't walk anywhere in the world and not see an Iverson Jersey.
Iverson kept leading or being in the top three in scoring, which by nature of the team Brown created around him was a necessity. He was one of the most feared players in the NBA and when you came to play the 'Sixers he was the one guy you had to focus all your energy in stopping.
Teams put big guys, long guys, fast guys their best defenders on Iverson. For the most part it didn't matter, he was virtually unstoppable. Iverson carried The 'Sixers to the playoffs on his thin shoulders, but they were bounced without much fight each time. First by the Celtics and then by the Pistons.
That's when the honeymoon ended. After the much referenced "practice speech" Larry Brown left Allen to go to...the Pistons.
Whether Larry Brown knew it or not, he'd effectively destroyed the Sixers and Allen Iverson by the move. None of the many coaches that followed were ever able to recapture the success of the Larry Brown teams though and Iverson never respected another coach like he did Brown.
Still given his immense talent and passion for the game you have to wonder how it is he was never able to duplicate that 2001 playoff run.
I guess the simple answer is that though his skills never left him, everyone else got better. When he came into the league he was special. A ridiculous combination of speed, agility, fearlessness and talent.
Now with guys like Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade, Deron Williams, Tony Parker and others, guys who have all those attributes with a more polished floor game and a less erratic jump shot, Iverson has become a face in the crowd. One often obscured by his more successful clones.
Brown may have known how to get the best out of Iverson, but it seems he never prepared him for this day. Today you still see Iverson fire in a hard chest pass when a bounce pass is needed. He still gets caught in the air too often and misses open teammates in favor of his own shot.
Although if the coach that he respected the most couldn't get him to go to practice it's doubtful he could've gotten him to work on his fundamentals.
All of which means, despite the highlight reel that is his career, we ever saw the best of Allen Iverson, which is both sad and infuriating.
Being glued to the Pistons bench probably leaves him more time than he'd like to think, to wonder, to doubt. The last few years he's averaging nearly half his career scoring average, seen his minutes steadily decline and his role in an offense go from first, to second, to third...
How can the player that has brought such fun and joy to the NBA reclaim his place among the elite? Will he ever be mentioned in the same breath as Bryant, James and Wade?
Has the window closed on him ever holding up that well deserved NBA Championship trophy? Will he start to be included in the company of Chris Webber as a player never able to reach his full potential?
I don't know the response to any of those questions. All I know is that The Answer, won't be found on the Pistons' Bench.
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