Ripping Allen Iverson's Leave of Absence From Sixers Is Reprehensible

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistFebruary 24, 2010

CHICAGO - FEBRUARY 20: Allen Iverson #3 of the Philadelphia 76ers tries to drive into the lane against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on February 20, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. 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 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

There are few definites in sports.

If you took/take steroids, you are a cheater. (That means you, Mark McGwire.)

If you win one of the four pro championships, you have legitimately earned the championship of your sport. (That very much doesn't mean you, BCS.)

And in some circumstances, an athlete's family must come before his job.

For some reason, this last rule seems to not apply for Allen Iverson, the Sixers' guard who came back this season for one more go-around to try and revive his career.

Iverson's four-year-old daughter Messiah is sick with an undisclosed illness, and she's only getting worse. Doctors still can't diagnose what's wrong.

Iverson missed five games before the All-Star break and skipped his starting spot in the All-Star game because of his daughter's illness. Now, he's taken an indefinite leave of absence from the Sixers to be with his family at this trying time.

You know what? Good for him. I'd hope any father would do the same for their child.

Unbelievably, some Iverson bashers have the fortitude to come out and say Iverson deserved this type of misfortune. I consider these people to be on the cognitive level of a peanut, we are all slightly dumber for knowing them, and may God have mercy on their souls.

For everyone else, make no mistake. This is a man concerned for his daughter's health, first and foremost. Making Iverson's leave of absence into anything other than a family issue is more than journalistically irresponsible, it's just pure gossip trash at this point.

Yes, I'm talking to you, Stephen A. Smith.

The boisterous Inquirer columnist penned another work of pure genius yesterday, saying, "a cricket fan from England wouldn't have a hard time deciphering what's going on here."

Smith went on to insinuate that the Sixers encouraged Iverson to leave the team indefinitely because he's a shell of his former self as a player, and they'd like to cut ties with him ASAP.

I'm not going to pretend to have sources in the Sixers' front office. I have no idea what they're planning to do with Iverson contractually.  

Right now, I don't care. Right now, it shouldn't matter.

This is a time that Iverson should focus completely on his family. Seeing your young child seriously ill and only getting worse with a disease doctors can't diagnose has to be up near the top of the "Parents' Worst Nightmares" lists.  

If I'm Iverson, a guy who's eaten, sweat, and bled Philadelphia for over a decade, I tell the Sixers "thanks for bringing me back, but I've gotta take care of my family."  I've earned enough money to retire tomorrow and live happily ever after as long as my daughter recovers from whatever's ailing her.

For Smith, of all people, to turn this into a basketball critique of a battered Iverson is nothing short of cheap. Smith is the same guy who broke the news that Iverson was planning to return to the Sixers back in November, painting himself in the process as one of Iverson's closest media connections.

How's A.I. going to feel when he reads your basketball manifesto against him, Screamin' A?

Smith ends his article with this gem:"Put it this way," one Eastern Conference official explained. "If Iverson was what he use to be, he'd play no matter what. It says something about his inability to play."

Yeah, if he was what he used to be—25, childless, and an MVP candidate—he'd sure as hell battle through any personal ailment to help his Sixers to a few more wins.

But he's 34, battling arthritis, and dealing with his own child's health. Forgive me if I'm understanding of Iverson prioritizing his family over basketball. Forgive me if I believe the Sixers capable of allowing Iverson, one of the franchise's living legends, all the time he needs to take care of his family's health first and foremost.

I don't think the Sixers were necessarily shocked that he's not the 25 point per game scorer that he was earlier in his career. Aging tends to have that effect on people, even NBA superstars.  

The Sixers brought him in to be a calming, veteran presence in the locker room, and guess what? Mission accomplished.

So thumbs up for the Sixers for giving Iverson all the time he needs. Thumbs up to Iverson for demonstrating how much he's matured over the years, and for taking this time off to be with his family.

And two thumbs way, way down to anyone who thinks that Iverson's being a selfish pig. Or who thinks that this was a subtle ploy by the Sixers to cut Iverson while they could.

Don't bring basketball into this. Not while his daughter's still sick and not getting any better.

Say: "Allen, you've given this city all you could for over a decade, and we'll be praying for you and your family."  That's it.  End there.

Shame on anyone who spins this story otherwise.

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