The Answer in his prime with the Sixers.
Some athletes, no matter how far away they get from their playing days, still evoke the emotions of fans, good or bad.
It's why we still are entranced by a Manny Ramirez comeback attempt, or why we watched Michael Jordan don a Wizards uniform, or why we would still watch in awe if Mike Tyson decided to step back in the ring.
It's also why we still care, or have disdain for, Allen Iverson.
Whatever side of that statement you fall on, make no mistake, Allen Iverson is an all-time great basketball player, and a surefire Hall of Famer once he is eligible for induction.
That said, there was always something about Iverson's game that left us wanting more. The man nicknamed "The Answer" always seemed to leave us with more question than, well, answers.
Many great athletes have left us asking the question of "what if?" What if Iverson had been a model citizen? What if Iverson had worked harder in practice? What if Iverson had built up a stronger frame? What if he was never pushed out of the game at the age of 34?
It speaks to the immense talent of Iverson to say that, despite a career that saw him win a Rookie of the Year award, an MVP, carry an otherwise mediocre team to the NBA Finals and finish with the sixth highest career scoring average in NBA history. Yet he still left us wondering how good he really could have been.
Maybe this is why it's so newsworthy when a 37-year-old man, who is barely 6'0", 180 pounds, hasn't played a game of NBA basketball in three years and is trying to make a comeback to the NBA. Maybe it's because Iverson never got to bow out of the game gracefully like other NBA greats. There was no fan fare, no farewell tour and ultimately no championship.
Iverson helped to usher in the hip hop era of basketball. His cornrows, tattoos and baggy clothes ruffled as much feathers around the league as his sick handle and tough-as-nails game ruffled feathers on the court. He had as many, if not more, detractors as he had fans.
Now with the news that Allen Iverson has declined an invitation by the Mavericks to play in the NBA D-League, those detractors, who probably wanted to see Iverson return so they can say he finally conformed to what an NBA superstar should be, will be louder than ever.
Off the court, Iverson was the anti-Jordan. He partied at clubs, had run-ins with the law, never shied away from a controversial comment and had a disdain for practice. On the court, his fire to compete and desire to win were probably much more Jordan-esque than most would like to admit. Anyone who doesn't believe that should take a look at the Sixers' roster that surrounded A.I. during his MVP campaign.
To strip this comeback story from the name, it simply isn't newsworthy. Nobody would care that an undersized shooting guard who is approaching 40, and hasn't played NBA hoops in three years was trying to make a comeback. Add the name Allen Iverson, however, and suddenly it's front page news. Suddenly that old, undersized shooting guard makes us care, even if it's only to hope he fails.
Had he taken better care of his slight frame, been a better teammate, worked harder at practice or been a model citizen off the court, it wouldn't be far fetched to think that Iverson could still be in the NBA. There are plenty of players older than Iverson, and with a fraction of his talent, still making a living in the NBA as role players. Anyone who says they could see Iverson in that role, however, is either the biggest Iverson apologist or just not being truthful.
Iverson still feels he's a star, and his pride would never let him accept otherwise. It's why he butted heads with Larry Brown for years, why he couldn't make it work in Memphis, and it's why he could accept being a role player during his second stop in Philadelphia. It's also why he was pushed out of the NBA way be fore he should have been, and why he probably won't get another chance to return.
With his refusal to go to the D-League, despite the fact that Dallas is terrible, and there is a solid chance he could have been with the Mavericks in no time, even if it's just to attract fans to the arena, Allen Iverson has probably hammered the final nail in the coffin of his NBA career. If he's comfortable with that, then who are we to say otherwise. In reality, the chances of this comeback amounting to anything substantial was slim, but as a basketball fan, it's still would have been a blast to see one of the greats go out with the proper respect he deserved.
It would have been nice to see Allen Iverson play in the NBA one last time, and maybe finally give us an answer to the questions he left us with.