To the surprise of few, Allen Iverson announced his retirement Wednesday weeks after the Memphis Grizzlies agreed to release him from his one-year contract.
For fans of the courageous slashing combo guard, the decision marked the bitter end of a media-driven smear campaign. His ardent supporters would not allow themselves to blame Iverson for his petulant behavior.
Instead, they chastised anyone who dared to question his loyalty, will to win or ego.
A player with such talent has the right to behave in any manner he wants. Damn you if you disagree.
To those not blinded by the unfulfilled potential of his awesome basketball faculties, a retirement after 14 years represents a legacy destroyed.
Iverson could play several more productive years, but no one wanted to sign him under his rigid conditions.
The desperate Memphis Grizzlies signed him in September as a last resort sales ploy. The acquisition did boost ticket sales for a few days, but the boneheaded decision to sic him on O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay could ruin the rest of the year for the franchise.
The prospect of decline and a reserve role prompted one of the NBA's leading men to bow out before the final act of the play.
The immovable force, well, moved in the wrong direction.
He should still be playing, but instead he decided ego preservation was more important than winning.
Michael Curry and Lionel Hollins never asked Iverson to come off the bench because they thought Rodney Stuckey, O.J. Mayo and Mike Conley Jr. were superior players.
The best player at a given position on a team doesn't always start. Future Hall of Famer Manu Ginobili and explosive scorer—J.R. Smith can attest to that.
Ginobili won a championship as the ultimate super sub in 2007. Lamar Odom produced off the pine for much of the L.A. Lakers latest championship run.
Dallas Mavericks guard Jason Terry, however, provides the best parallel.
Perceptions about Terry have changed since his embrace of a second-unit starring role.
He scored 35 points in a pivotal NBA Finals game as a starter. Then, observers wondered if he was just accumulating stats for a fat contract extension.
His deal conveniently expired after that Finals run.
Terry's play in the parts of the series could be compared to vomit.
Then, Avery Johnson decided that his team's second unit needed more firepower. He made Terry a full-time reserve, and the results were smashing.
Rick Carlisle concurred with Johnson about Terry's reserve value.
After dealing with Jason Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard in the starting five, opponents would have to handle a lethal scorer with limitless range and veins with freezer burn.
His impact did not lessen because the PA announcer no longer called his name during the starting introductions.
His role, in fact, augmented.
Terry can establish his presence as much after six minutes as he can from the opening tip.
If Iverson followed Terry's lead, he would still be playing. And winning.
His 18 ppg average looks similar to his numbers as a starter.
What Terry realized that Iverson should have: a reserve role means free reign in the offense.
It means more shots and sometimes more points. Ginobili's highest season average came in a reserve role.
Ditto for Smith.
I get the differences between the two players, dear Iverson fanatics.
Terry has never carried a team on his back for a full season.
He was not a number one pick.
Terry is not headed to Springfield.
His career scoring totals cannot measure up to Iverson's.
Still, Terry has been to the same number of championship series, and he boasts one more Finals win than Iverson.
You can collate that.
It was difficult to watch the Jet demolish the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center on Wednesday and not think of how Iverson could wreak similar havoc.
Terry was the best player on the floor, and he single handedlyerased a 12-point deficit with his dead-eye shooting.
If you squinted for a moment, you might have seen Kobe Bryant. He was that deadly.
After allowing an 11-2 lead, the Mavericks thumped the Rockets 130-99.
Would Dallas have won so handily with Terry on the floor in the opening minutes?
Imagine Iverson as a Celtics reserve. A limited role behind Rajon Rondo would mask his dangerous gambles on defense and his aversion to practice.
He could dominate the ball, and thus, dominate other second units. With Eddie House and Rasheed Wallace at his side, would anybody stop the Boston bench?
Instead of retirement, Iverson would be running toward the championship that would complete his career.
Perceptions would change. If they did for Terry, why wouldn't they for Iverson?