Allen Iverson jogged from the bench upon being called last, arms raised high above his head. He was recognizable in every way, from the headband, the hair, to the sleeve on his right arm. The jersey was baggy, but really, I wouldn’t want to see AI any other way. The spotlight shined; there was no mistaking him.
Despite that, the familiarity of his entrance was rendered odd. The uniform required no further proof of exile without the logo of the NBA. Once adored and idolized on the rightful courts of world’s most prominent stage, he now plots a comeback where the limelight had moved on, yet the failures are too clear for all to see.
As the story of Allen Iverson stands, it’s far from a happy ending. The iconic superstar who dominated the court with a go big or go home mentality is forced to do the latter, except he now has to call Istanbul so. Nothing against Turkey basketball, but AI doesn’t belong there.
Never once did I think that I would rather see Allen Iverson without a basketball jersey. For any player, putting on a uniform is a kind of recognition; it admits skill and achievement. For someone nicknamed The Answer, the Black Eagles jersey he now wears exposes his weakness, announces defeat.
Honestly, I never thought his departure from the NBA would fare well. To see him in a European uniform, trying his best to prolong maybe just half of what once was, turns his misfortune into tragedy. There are no reasonable explanations as to why Iverson would resort to play for the Besiktas Cola Turka Black Eagles, a second tier ball club that doesn’t even participate in the Euroleague, Europe’s most acclaimed. Instead, Iverson will be splitting time between competing in the Eurocup and the Turkey League. Putting it in perspective, it is as if he is participating in the D-league instead of the NBA equivalence on the other side of the Atlantic.
Among my first guesses were financial setbacks, a bad management decision, or the simple desire to compete. Perhaps this will serve as a genuine F-you to the association, which has long blackballed him for the hip-hop culture he paved the way for. Yet, none of these came close to a logical motive for the former MVP and scoring champion. This man is one of the best to have played the game. Playing anywhere except the NBA is unacceptable.
On the other hand, this may be a blessing in disguise. While diminished, his skill set most certainly can still contribute at a high level in Turkey. If Stephon Marbury can keep up a 23 points, 9.5 assists stat sheet, AI will manage just fine. Two years for four million dollars seems like a fair deal considering the veteran’s minimum and non-guaranteed contract he signed for during his last stints.
Frankly, I wished he would back out on this like he did to Detroit, to Memphis, and to all the times he backed down at no one. When his debut was postponed, I was sure he wasn’t going to play a single game. It was welcoming news.
Then, AI scored 15 points in his first game in the Eurocup, and more importantly, his first game overseas.
Not bad for a guy who barely played in the last two years, but not quite the impressive All-Star performance, either. At this point, people who still paid attention to him did so for only one reason: paying their due diligence as a die hard fan. AI was still tough, although watching videos of him made it even worse, because he was nowhere close to his old self. The optimism for his supremacy is now non-existent.
Those of us who still cared tuned to NBA TV for his debut in the Turkish league. The result? Two points and four rebounds in 19 minutes of play. My fear stays justified. This is him, going out in a whimper, on a distant land where he isn’t even known by some, let alone beloved.
He isn’t going across the ocean to popularize basketball, not even to salvage his career. Those are tales of old. He is just holding on to whatever he can now. He did score 18 points in his second game in the Eurocup, but at this point he has no one convinced.
So, is it because of money?
Kate Fagan, credible beat writer of the Philadelphia Inquirer, flew to Istanbul herself to confirm what the fans, and perhaps AI himself, are unwilling to admit:
“The 76ers’ former all-everything guard is broke—by all accounts except his own—and playing here in Istanbul for a number of reasons, none of which is to become an ambassador for Turkey’s solid, but often overlooked, professional league.”
I’m baffled, but not really. Surprised? I hope I can say so. But who actually put their money on a happy ending?
Even as a cautionary tale, he is forgotten by most now. Maybe that is why he chose Europe. There comes a time for every man to swallow his pride, and it is easier to do so without all the judging eyes here. AI can finally catch a breath and run at his own pace.
Of course, that is just a polite way of saying he is unwanted and broke. The truth is, we all kind of anticipated this day to happen. Him being in Turkey was the worst scenario we never permitted ourselves to even imagine. We knew exactly what a lifestyle of frivolous gambling and drinking entails. Be sure to pile that on top of the number of people that basically robbed him financially. On the other hand, the curiosity he generates can probably last him a few more rounds elsewhere, and certainly in China.
He better make the money count this time around, too, given how fast an estimate of 154 million dollars was seemingly spent, excluding his endorsements with various big-named companies. If only he doesn’t bail out of an unfavorable situation for once, that is. To make matters worse, he recently launched an Ebay account auctioning off memorabilia. As unfitting as the situation is, AI should be thankful of this opportunity. This is somewhat evident in a recent interview with David Hein, where he said all the right things about the team, the adjustments, and the opportunity.
Nobody leaves on top. Few stars go out like they should, but fewer player of AI’s stature go out the way he is right now. His situation will be compared to the likes of Shawn Kemp, Eddy Curry, Antoine Walker, and many more. Suddenly, it becomes another generic account of a rich athlete being foolish with his money. Even then, not one person on that list comes close to revolutionizing the game the way The Answer did.
It was always a battle when he stepped on the court. Regardless of your opinion of him, it’s impossible to deny his heart. Night in and night out, he gave it his all, and set the curve for playing one’s heart out. Many greats have identical attributes of ambition, passion and drive, but as far as being a warrior, AI outmatches anyone with ease. It is disheartening to see most of the new generation of players lacking this fundamental essence of the game.
Then again, David Stern always favored whatever The Answer stood against.
An ego maniac, undisciplined player, ailing star. Allen Iverson is all of this. He is also the reason behind the tattoos, headbands, cornrows, and a representation of staying true to oneself. The accomplishments are undeniable. So are the trends he shaped.
Throughout various points in his career, he earned the approval he deserved, one of the most symbolic being David Stern apologizing to the airbrushed removal of his tattoos on a magazine cover. I think we all can acknowledge that any man is responsible for his own actions. That being said, not one team in the league can offer a roster spot for him?
Looking at it subjectively, however, his brilliance did mask a lot of the problems that have been there since day one, since his final appearance, since Melo and him couldn’t win it. When he was kicked around the league like a hackie sack, the problems came to light.
Evaluating Iverson, especially as a fan, it is often easy to overlook the statistical revolution that is setting trends in most NBA front offices. On paper, Iverson is an inefficient volume scorer, mediocre passer and a liability on team defense. He steals the ball a lot, but that also plays a part in his high turnover numbers. His dominance is based on speed and athleticism as much as skill.
In reality, he is not good for all but scoring. When his efficiency plummeted as a result of not getting to the foul line like he used to, his value took a nosedive. Most of all, his presence on teams so far has been cancerous as much as it has been constructive. To those without a soft spot for him, it is too messy to clean the train wreck up.
What is unsettling to me is the NBA’s continual exploitation of AI, despite not wanting to have anything to do with him. At one point, on NBA.com, they showed the love he got from the Turkish fans, then reported about his debut. He is now being used as an international marketing tool, a globalizing strategy, surely without his consent. This is just the conspiracy theorist in me talking, but I am having a hard time considering otherwise. David Stern never ceases to amaze me for being the sly fox that he is.
Nevertheless, there is still a tiny part of me inside that is confident that he can play his way onto an NBA roster midseason. A few contenders still can use a little guy who can score and setup his teammates. He will rule, part farewell with Turkey, and eventually play well enough to make a few more years count. That is the fairytale ending Allen Iverson is worthy of. That is the what we want to see The Answer live out.
He surprised us before on a routine basis. He always played injured, yet was still one of the best men on the court on any given night. It is hard to mingle on the court at the listed height of six feet, but he did just so swiftly. We opened our mouths and widened our eyes when his ankle breakers schooled the best of them. He stirred the crowd the most when he was knocked down. Never once did he fail to get back up to inspire us.
But I think anyone watching the basketball with a rational mind doesn’t see it happening anymore.
Include those of us stuck in the past. I am still cheering with Larry on the sideline, Dikembe in the paint.
I’ll leave it to less than a 1% chance for a comeback to actually transpire.
Come to think of it, his demise was abrupt. There wasn’t enough time to appreciate his last days in the NBA, however unsatisfying it was. All we have now are Youtube videos. The next time he headlines the news, it won’t be anything pleasant. The appeal of a foreign import will not be so attractive once the frequent and expensive maintenance hurts the wallet. Judging by how China refused to be bullied by Stephon Marbury, this could indeed be the last of AI.
Saying all this cringes my heart, because I do miss Allen Iverson. The man will always be a legend and my favorite player.
Nostalgia, that’s all it is.