AI: Why Do You Want to Be Like Mike, When You Can Be Like Manu

Jeffrey EngmannCorrespondent IJuly 10, 2009

CLEVELAND - FEBRUARY 22:  Allen Iverson #1 of the Detroit Pistons brings the ball up court against the Cleveland Cavaliers on February 22, 2009 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland won the game 99-78. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

It’s one of those bad jokes that has to make everyone inside the room face cringe and ears bleed.
Recently, whenever an interviewer mentions Allen Iverson’s age, the aging all star responds in an agitated tone:
“Why are you guys trying to put me in a rocking chair?”
Reporters never seem to follow the sarcastic remark with logic. I concede that it must be hard to. In fear of making Iverson dig himself yet another whole, they spare him from facing the undeniable truth.
AI, father time is soon approaching.
Maybe, the multi faceted superstar is getting his profession confused with his other passions.

Unfortunately for him basketball is not rap. The fact that Jay Z can be one the best in the rap game even when he’s an octogenarian is remarkable. But rapping and hooping, which is tragicly seen as interchangeable by some NBA superstars, are two entirely different animals.  
Trust me Iverson fans, it hurts to write this article.

I hate thinking about the uncertainty that surrounds the future of this generation’s most influential player. I am dreading each day, hoping my eyes won't witness a bold headline on that reads  'Iverson has retired.'
Even after 13 years of ups and downs, his rookie seasons still seems like it happened yesterday.

The Jordan crossover, the 5 consecutive 40 point games and all the criticism that followed. That one year served  as a microcosm for his entire career.

Even when people wanted him to change his image, they could not ignore his game. They knew that his mercurial talents were  At seasons end, the then 21 year old Iverson boldly stated that he did not want to be like Bird, Magic, or Mike. He wanted to be Allen Iverson.
The statement was laudable, as he set out from the get go to be a trailblazer (not a jail blazer), approaching the game and everything that comes with it in his own unique way.
And that's what made him Jordan’s opposite, and more importantly Kobe Bryant’s antithesis. The truth of the matter is Iverson doesn’t have fans, he practically has cult members. Before Twitter, Iverson had passionate followers ready to defend him, ready to step up in his defense even after every misstep the star would make.

The reason is that even before the whole reality TV trend, Iverson was just so candid and real in front of the cameras. A little too young to remember the days of Charles Barkley, I’d never seen someone who was unrepentantly himself in front of cameras. His playing style matched his personality, courageous almost to his own detriment  Truth be told if Spike Lee really wanted to create a eye opening documentary on an NBA star,  he should have done a documentary on  Iverson’s career naming it “When Keeping it Real Goes Wong.”  

Balancing out the unprecedented support are not simply critics of Iverson but enemies.
People that want the huge chip on his shoulder to bury him and his chances of putting on another NBA uniform. They are pulling for David to lose to Goliath. But if he was in a Shakespeare play, his tragic flaw wouldn’t necessarily be his ego, but instead his will to win. He wouldn’t be the only player ever who inhabited this flaw, MJ and Kobe Bryant were the same. Perceived as bad teammates at one point of the career, they were able to better understand the game and exactly how to win. Iverson, after 13 seasons still doesn’t grasps the details and intricacies of the game that allow his antithesis to dominate.
The generation that preceded him was undoubtedly dominated by Michael Jordan. His image, his game was something everyone appreciated and respected. When he was 34 years old, he was still the lead dog on his team and winning championships.  I think Iverson wants to retract his statement in youth, and be granted the opportunity to be like Mike.
But the dust ups that have casted a dark cloud over his career were destined to catch up to him. And now in day 10 of free agency, the bad times continue to poor down on Iverson. The Heat and Grizzles seem to interested; interested in giving ultimatums to a player who has done so much for the league. Ultimately I don’t believe AI should play 15-20 minutes a game, but just the same I’m not sure if NBA franchises are willing to take a gamble and let him start knowing his unique style of play. I just wish that AI could embrace a role that would be new but not all that different. Embrace being a sixth man and coming of the b…b.b..b.bench! I know, AI thinks this is the worst five letter b word applicable to mankind. But why can’t he be a Jason Terry, or even a Leandro Barbosa.

The best way for Iverson to silence his critics, while simultaneously defeating his enemies is to embrace and then flourish in Manu Gibobli's role, and not Michael Jordan's.
What team doesn’t need a Manu Ginobli. It’s not just instant offense that Ginobli comes off the bench it’s instant life. His presence on the court energizes the team, and consequently, the team takes on a new identity.  Several playoff teams need that guy who they can turn to give them life and change the complexion of the game. New Orleans found out last year that James Posey wasn’t nearly enough. They need a player who can help them push the tempo, something coach Jeff Van Gundy constantly stressed during the playoffs was key for being successful.

Even though the city of Brotherly Love acts like they don’t have any more affection for their adopted son, they also could use Iverson’s services. If given the opportunity to run with Thaddeus Young and Kapono, Iverson along with that second unit would be deadly.
Houston is another team that desparately needs offensive help. Trevor Ariza and Shane Battier are not exactly the most feared wing duo in the league, but allowing them to play at times with Brooks and at times with Iverson would be great to see. Slashers and three point shooters work well alongside Iverson, especially one‘s who play defense.

But these scenarios are meaningless. This is not a new argument or an innovative idea. Teams are afraid of Iverson. They are afraid that he’s going to embarrass the way many believed he did Detroit.  But, I propose Iverson wouldn't have acted so rebelliously if the team was actually winning while he was subjugated to playing 18 minutes a game. The team was trying to make a playoff push, just a couple games out of fifth place. I remember him jumping off the bench, excited in the waning moments of his first game in the new roll when his team won at home against Philadelphia. But I also remember him voicing his frustrations the following night in a defeat to Cleveland.

The team lost the game by six 73-79. Iverson was one of two players to reach double figures in the game and the only player on the roster that shot above 50 percent from the field.

Will Bynum and Kwame Brown saw more minutes than him in that game.

I bring this up because maybe his perception of the bench was tainted by the likes of Michael Curry. Maybe their is hope that his career can move in that direction.
Or maybe I'm wrong.

He entered the league with a swag much larger than Kanye’s, but he's not a rapper (or not a decent one atleast). He's Allen Iverson. Therefore as a fan, I almost have to be willing to accept that he will leave the game on his own terms.