It could be argued that Allen Iverson is in denial.
He can't come to grips with the fact that he's getting older, and with age his skills have diminished. His confidence remains unwavering, his pride unyielding. He simply refuses to accept the laws of nature.
"They want to put me in a rocking chair," Iverson has said on several occasions. "This year, it's so personal," he promised.
Just one game into the 2009-10 NBA season, Iverson began griping about his role with the Memphis Grizzlies. Hadn't he considered the possibility that he might not start, or receive the amount of minutes he deems acceptable, when he signed with Memphis? Some might call that delusional.
With the media vultures circling above his freshly braided head, everyone from sportswriters to casual fans are anticipating his demise with the decency of snarling sewer rats. The same people who would kiss Iverson's Reeboks earlier in his career are writing him off as a worthless bum. He's selfish, arrogant, and a disgrace to the NBA, they'll tell you.
What many fail to mention is that Iverson is perhaps the most honest athlete in the history of sports. Since he entered the league in 1996, Iverson has been decisively "real" when speaking to the media. After crossing over Michael Jordan as a rookie, Iverson said afterwards, "My heroes don't wear suits."
From his infamous "practice" press conference to a simple game reaction, Iverson has always been one of the most compelling interviews in all of sports. The reason is simple; he's not a phony. The majority of athletes give robotic responses to reporters, skillfully scripted by years of practice. With Iverson, although of course there is somewhat of a required filter, it's about as real as it gets.
When the NBA issued a dress code, Iverson adamantly objected. Many players agreed with Iverson, but were intimidated to voice their opinions.
"Just because you put a guy in a tuxedo, it doesn't mean he's a good guy," Iverson said.
There is no athlete more responsible for ushering in the hip-hop era to professional sports, period. While some may view this as a negative contribution, hip-hop culture has pervaded sports irreversibly. Whether you like it or not, it's here to stay.
In terms of performance on the basketball court, Iverson is the greatest six-footer in NBA history. Ranked sixth all-time in PPG at over 27 per contest, he carried a team that started Eric Snow, George Lynch, and Tyrone Hill to the NBA Finals in one of the most remarkable seasons ever played. And he did it all with a style that transformed the game forever.
Now that Iverson is in the darkest hour of his brilliant career, the leeches are thirsty for blood. If this is really the end, it will be an injustice to his magnificent legacy. Perhaps the media and the viewing public should take a step back before stepping on Iverson's throat. Here's hoping that Iverson leaves with the dignity and respect that he no doubt deserves.