Without Question, It’s Charlotte or Bust
AI’s misunderstood legacy rides on a possible reunion with Larry Brown.
Where are you, Allen? Where you been? What do you want? Where are you going?
Come back to me, Allen. Come back to us. Come back to it, Mr. Iverson.
The me refers to…well, me. ‘Me’ being Doobie Okon, a lifelong Philadelphian and thus, quite naturally, a lifelong Philadelphia 76ers fan. ‘Me’ being this lifelong fanatic whose number one sports icon has always been ‘The Answer’, Allen Iverson. Me, who only wants to see his idol succeed in what he shines at, the game of basketball, no matter what city is fortunate enough to have him.
The us refers to those of us fans who still recognize the greatness in what Iverson has done on the court in the past. Those of us that still revel in the excitement of what the little guy used to be and what he meant to the game. The us refers to those of us that still want to see more, because we believe we can see more.
The it is the greatness. The speed. The scoring. The steals. The crossovers. The drives. The clutch. The emotion. The leadership. The arena hysteria. The greatness.
Today, the NBA, a league Allen Iverson used to dominate on the court with his moves and off the court with his popularity and marketing, sees its former star sitting on the outskirts as a free agent with a very limited list of teams even slightly interested. Memphis is interested, according to the team, and AI’s Twitter feed. And trust me, Memphis is not the answer. Use this article for future reference, Allen, if you indeed choose to join the everlasting mediocrity that is the Grizzlies. Do sports networks really care, though? Does the public seem interested anymore? No. A few years ago, ESPN would probably be on its hands and knees following Ivy’s journey through free agency. But now, barely nothing. It’s sad and confusing.
How is this possible? How is an NBA star—a freak athlete who, standing at 6’0 (max), has dragooned slower guards on the key and giants in the post for years—quietly lingering with no organization chomping at the bit for his services?
So today, sitting at a mere 34 years and three months young, AI is 16th on the all time total scoring list with 23,983 points and fifth on the all-time per-game scoring list at 27.1 points per game behind MJ, Wilt, LeBron and Elgin Baylor. Pretty solid company, eh? And even being grouped in between those elite guys, who all excelled in their own unique respects, AI was and will always be distinguished because he simply moves quicker than the rest. The camera can never keep up with his blazes, and how could it? Seriously, check some of ‘em out. Damn, what a nasty crossover. It was a sight to behold while he resided in Sixer black.
And before the tumultuous past year, including the Denver-Detroit trade and all the drama that surrounded his Piston days (where he only scored 17.5 ppg in 57 games), Iverson was third on that all-time per-game list for years. Third. Six foot nothing. One hundred and nothing.
Recognize, people. Hell, in ’07-08, Bubbachuck still averaged 26.4 points with the Nuggets, good enough for third highest in the league, behind LeBron and Kobe. And he played in all 82 games.
And he logged 41.8 minutes a game, tops in the NBA and topping his career average of 41.4.
And he shot 45.8% from the field that year. well above his career mark of 42.5%.
And he only shot the ball 19 times a game, well below his career number at 22.
And he sunk free throws at an 80% rate and averaged an unselfish 7.1 assists per game. Let’s face it, nobody is matching those kinds of complete, and unbelievable, offensive numbers except Bron-Bron Bryant. (That’s my nickname for those two, for they will forever be linked in the ongoing “greatest of the era” debate.)
Yet, it doesn’t matter. One year removed from that phenomenal season, nobody gives a damn about Allen Iverson. Nobody cares as to where he’s going to end up and what he’s capable of doing, anymore. Nobody’s talking about him. There used to be an inevitability attached to AI when you talked about his name eventually being among those mentioned as the greatest players in history. Now, although still true in my estimation, it seems there is no certainty to that label anymore.
It also doesn’t help that Iverson starred in the years that I call the “in-between.” In between the Jordan era, which was fantastic, and the recent era of LeBron, D-Wade, Melo, CP3, Josh Smith, along with many other exciting younger players that have truly revived the league in my eyes. So could Allen have been overshadowed just a tad recently? Maybe.
And now that I think about it, I never put my small AI poster on the wall of my new apartment. The same poster that has graced all of my bedroom walls since the year 2000. It’s hard for me to look at it now, though; he just doesn’t have that same aura of exalt surrounding his image anymore. And I want that back. How did it happen? How has my guy fallen so hard?
Now, I understand why people say Allen’s responsible for his current status. Too many off-court issues. Couldn’t handle being a star next to another star in ‘Melo. Headache for coaches. Not a team player. Didn’t make players better around him. Too low of a shooting percentage. Late for practices. Missed practices. The famous ‘practices’ press conference. Starting to slow down. Blah Blah Blah.
I get it.
I’ve heard them all, and instead of dwelling on each criticism and arguing against those excuses, I will offer one solution as to how AI can save his legacy: The Charlotte Bobcats.
It might seem like a strange suggestion, given that some of you might have predicted that I’d say he needs to return to Philly. But although I’d consider myself a dreamer, I am also a realist. And in reality, that just wouldn’t work. He wouldn’t help this particular team. There’d be too many objectors in the city that would criticize his every bad night. And Eddie Jordan is not the answer at head coach, for the Sixers, or for Allen Iverson.
AI’s inspiring 10 plus seasons in Philadelphia, however, do account for the three reasons he needs to sign with Bobcats. To put it simply, it’s the Coach, the City and the Playoffs. This trifecta is the key to Allen’s reemergence as one of the game’s legends.
So firstly, one has to consider the possibility of Allen playing for his former 76ers coach, Larry Brown, again. Could you imagine an AI-LB reunion? It’s intriguing to contemplate, given that their coupling seems so many years and so many tears ago. Both invested so much time and emotion into this team, this city, and each other, and the Bobcatting combo of two of the leagues most headstrong individuals would be quite a story for the papers, again.
Allen came to the Sixers in 1996 as a 21-year-old precocious talent. However, the city and the league reacted to Iverson differently. Some chose to focus on his tattoos, street clothes and legal record. He was jailed in 1993 following a bowling alley fight and also was arrested for a concealed weapon and marijuana possession the day after he received the rookie of the year award following the 96-97 season. Others, however, just marveled at his skills on the court and respected him for his dedication to his family as well as his honesty with the media.
Enter Coach Larry Brown. Shall we say he was Bizarro Iverson? The opposite of AI… Clean cut. Preacher of defense, ball movement and good behavior. That is not to say Allen doesn’t encompass those traits, but his scoring ability greatly overshadowed his flaws at defense and his occasional knack for shooting a bit much. And while Allen is not a bad individual whatsoever, his negative choices always befogged his persona because what else is new in U.S. sports media.
Brown was named 76ers head coach before the ’97-98 season, and the two clashed immediately. Brown became increasingly frustrated with Allen’s occasional lateness to practice or skipping of it entirely. Brown eventually indicated his belief that Iverson wasn’t a pure point guard and moved him to shooting guard, much to the dismay of many who believed he was too short to play the position. AI actually vindicated his coach by making other shooting guards look silly on defense the majority of the time. But still, their off court issues grew, and Coach Brown was extremely close to having AI traded before the magical ’00-01 season.
After barely avoiding a trade, Iverson greatly matured that year on the court, leading the 76ers to the NBA Finals surrounded only by a handful of role players, while taking home MVP honors. (2000-2001 was also Brown’s first Finals trip, believe it or not, along with his only coach of the year award.) The relationship between coach and player grew, since both were willing to communicate with each other more and recognized that their feud could grow into a bond. Hell, Allen even asked for his coach when he received the All-Star Game MVP trophy in a memorable and touching moment for any Philly fan.
And although Allen posted fantastic numbers and continued to dazzle arenas nightly after Brown left the Sixers in 2003, Iverson would always go on to praise his former coach for teaching him to play the game better and to be a better man as well. So, assuming Allen’s ability hasn’t eluded him, a reunion could spark that relationship again and it could be something special. Brown can maximize his talent again while remaining a great and positive influence for Iverson’s persona. It’s just crazy enough to work.
Secondly, the city. Firstly, no, I am not comparing the sports city of Charlotte to that of Philadelphia. And no, I am not indicating that Allen will ever have a similar connection with another city as he had with the Philos Adelphos. Charlotte, however, isn’t necessarily a terrible sports town, especially on the college basketball front. Their professional basketball team is in need of the boost, though, and Iverson could be the answer. How appropriate.
Allen has the ability to electrify that city and organization, assuming he’s in top form. The Bobcats are still in their infant days in the league, and imagine what a player like Allen could do for them.
Fans in Philly were constantly wowed at his quickness and determination to get to the basket, no matter how hard the beating. Every night. He filled the stadium as if it was a one-man circus, from his chilling introduction to his signature ear-cupping signal, letting the crowd know it was time to tell the visiting team this was his court. I’ve never seen a city and its star athlete join emotions like in those closing moments of a victory.
And he has the ability to fill any stadium, even Time Warner Cable Arena, where attendance has ranked 28th, 22nd, 27th, 24th and 26th since entering the league. So imagine what Allen could do for his legacy if he constantly filled a struggling, small-market arena as well as fueling the franchise’s first trip to the Playoffs.
Playoffs. The third head of the trifecta. You know, I’m not so sure Michael Jordan knows what the hell he’s doing over there in the front office, but he (or whoever made the call) definitely put this team on the right path by hiring Larry Brown. After giving up over 100 points per game each of its first 4 years, Charlotte only yielded 94.1 ppg last year under Brown. That’s a phenomenal mark all things considerd.
Charlotte posted a record of 35-47 last year. Not too shabby for a team still trying to find its identity. Not to mention that the record was only four games behind the Pistons, the 8th seed in the Eastern conference. Got to love the East.
And the Bobcats really do have a core of nice young players, including D.J Augustin, Boris Diaw, Gerald Wallace and Gerald Henderson. And I loved Okafor on Charlotte, but Tyson Chandler is nothing to cry about. (And might I add this team is mad fun on NBA 2k9.)
However, their mark of 93.6 ppg in 08-09 was last in the league, so a true scoring option is a need. You can only generate so much offense from that squad, and thus this is where Iverson is a perfect fit.
With Iverson, the Bobcats, yes the Charlotte Bobcats, can scratch the post-season surface for the first time. And then, it’s Iverson’s time to shine and make his way back into people’s living rooms. Because, oh yeah, Iverson has a career playoff mark of 29.7 points per game, second all-time behind Charlotte’s part-owner, his Airness.
There you have it. I rest my case.
Can you hear it? “And finally, for your Charlotte Bobcats, a six-foot guard out of Georgetown, number 3, Allllennnnnn Iverrrssooonnnn!”
AIlen once said, “I don’t wanna be Magic. I don’t wanna be Bird. I don’t wanna be Isiah. I don’t wanna be any of those guys. When my career is over, I wanna look in the mirror and say I did things my way.”
Well, even if he doesn’t wanna be those guys, his name certainly deserves to be associated with them. It’s not…yet, and this is the possible route that could carry Allen to the elusive summit of NBA legends and the title of “greatest little man to ever play the game.”
So, I will end by suggesting that we have never seen a more gifted, yet misunderstood athlete than Allen Ezail Iverson. I just think he’s in danger of the latter overwhelming his legacy.
Thus, I can only hope he revisits greatness because it’s waiting with open arms in North Carolina.