Today, news broke that Pistons star Allen Iverson has cut off his trademark braids.
Of course, the Internet has since been abuzz with discussion of Iverson's new look.
Shaq went as far as calling it "cute" (an odd choice of words if you ask me).
So why is the media covering this story, showing video clips of Iverson's new look? Why are there some 20 blog posts on the subject, even though it happened just yesterday?
I can't answer all these questions. But I can tell you why I'm writing this particular article.
The Questions that Led to "The Answer"
Growing up in Philadelphia, my favorite sports were hockey, basketball and baseball.
The Sixers were and will always be my favorite team. As I was growing up, guys like Dr. J and Moses Malone were my heroes.
Then came Sir Charles Barkley. I definitely recognized his greatness, but never did I idolize him like Malone and Erving.
Then, those lean years for the Sixers came. If you're a Sixers fan, you'll know what I'm talking about.
Shawn Bradley and Reese Witherspoon were our "stars".
Oh wait, I have Reese confused with someone...
I have to be honest, it was tough to stick with the team through that era.
I stopped watching. Management and owners seemed to care less about putting a winning team on the court and more about the bottom line.
It was a bad period from 1992 to 1996.
I actually stopped caring, and I hate to say it, but a lot of other Philadelphians did too. If you think I'm exaggerating, ponder this fact:
The Sixers couldn't even sell out the Spectrum at the time, nor could they unload season tickets.
Then that fateful day came: the day Allen Iverson was drafted by the 76ers.
He may have not have won an NBA championship for Philly during his tenure here, but he did something no other star or player since Dr. J had done.
He reinvigorated the fan base and recaptured the love for the Sixers. He got the entire city to care again.
By his second year, Iverson had the whole town talking. It soon became popular again proclaim your fandom. Even people from other cities were wearing Iverson jerseys.
Then the celebs starting coming to Sixers games: I remember seeing Will Smith at the game after Thanksgiving Day in 1997, against the Lakers. The place was packed with a sell-out crowd, and you could feel the electricity.
AI had even put a disenchanted fan like me back into the Sixers' fold. He had made basketball in Philly exciting again.
The Questions Came with "The Answer"
Yet somewhere along the line, as the years passed, the love affair between Philly and Allen ended. Like so many other times with countless other players, the fickle fans of Philadelphia chased yet another star out of their city.
The list of such victims is as long as you can imagine.
Eric Lindros, Randall Cunningham, Moses Malone, Charles Barkley, more Phillies than I care to remember...sadly, Iverson became just one more on that list.
But I still thank the man for bringing me back to Sixers basketball.
What made Iverson so special at the time was he was different, from the cornrows to the tattoos to the extra-long shorts. Iverson was always true to himself.
I'm sure the corporate types of the NBA were having nightmares, but the fact of the matter is fans from all over the world embraced Iverson.
I got so tired of hearing statements like "he's a hoodlum" based solely upon his appearance. I'll tell you as a Caucasian that Iverson having cornrows and tattoos didn't make me think he was a thug. I hated that the media thought they could speak for others.
I remember having a Iverson poster up on my wall in 1997, when I was in college. I remember my best friend coming over and, noticing the poster, sarcastically saying:
"What, is Iverson your homeboy?"
"No," I replied, "Iverson is 'The Man'."
I can't imagine the prejudice Iverson faced through his life or because of his color and image. But I know just how stupid and prejudiced some people acted towards me for being a fan of his.
What I respected the most about Iverson was that he was true to himself and was loyal to his family and friends, even when the media was tearing him apart for his loyalty. He was the real deal on and off the court.
Even when Iverson got in trouble with the police here in Philly (some story of him looking for his wife and pulling a gun on someone at a door), I stood by him and never wavered.
I saw the big picture: So many people wanted a piece of him, hangers-on and people thinking they could make a quick buck at his expense. And I hated that the media used his image agaisnt him every time something bad happened in his personal life.
Still My Man
So here we are, so many years later.
Iverson on the Pistons, and based on everything I've read recently, he's just done somehing he vowed he'd never do: He's cut off his braids.
If anyone else had done this, it wouldn't be news-worthy. But because it was Iverson, people are talking.
What does that mean?
Iverson without braids is like Superman without a cape. It's like Hulk Hogan without his trademark mustache. It's like Angelina Jolie without 20 kids by her side: It just doesn't seem natural.
But more than that, it makes me feel that an era is over. We all mature and get older, but this is different.
I've read so much stuff on this subject in the last 24 hours. Here are some of the ramblings:
"The era of the militant, hip-hop, urban-culture chokehold on the NBA is over."
"Iverson did it because he's desperate for attention."
"Iverson knows his carreer is at its end and realizes he must be a team player, and not the main attraction, so he cut his hair to be just your average-looking player."
"He did it because former teammate Carmelo Anthony cut his braids too eariler this year."
"Iverson wants to look like the President."
The statement about the end of the "hip-hop culture's chokehold on the NBA" irks the hell out of me.
I hate the traditionalist fans of sports who hate change, and I'm sure those traditionalists have hated Iverson from day one.
I saw and still see nothing wrong with the NBA evolving; I thought it was a breath of fresh air when players started wearing cornrows and tattoos.
I'm sure some narrow-minded people will see Iverson cutting his braids, as a sign that the traditionlists have won, and that the "Messiah" of the "hip-hop culture of the NBA" has backed down.
For me, this is a reality check: The days and years I remember of Iverson on the Sixers are long over.
The Sixers aren't the same team, Iverson isn't the same person, and the world isn't the same either.
Bob Dylan said it in a song once: "The times, they are a-changin'."
Iverson cutting off his braids will mean a lot of things to a lot of people. For me, it just makes me realize those years he had in Philly are all a memory now; he's never coming back.
We never got that NBA Championship. But damn, there were some fun times.
So, Allen Iverson, whoever you choose to be now, make the best of your time in the NBA. Enjoy the twilight of your career. Do your best to retire with that elusive NBA title. Don't have any regrets.
Oh, and if you're going to try another hair style, and want some "more attention"...
Go for the Katt Williams male-angled bob.
I'm just saying.