Still The (Tattooed) Elephant In The Room
Iverson’s guaranteed contract assures us of what?
OK, now Allen Iverson’s contract has been guaranteed (by the Philadelphia 76ers), I feel a little safer writing a sprawling 2000 word piece involving his prorated one-year deal (that’s worth a meager $1,300,000); his placement and his future living arrangements within the NBA’s hotel chain (Don’t worry, that “Hotel” comment will make complete sense in a minute).
The Answer’s return to the City Of Brotherly Love was supposed to light some sort of (much needed) fuse under the Sixers, igniting them like a starters pistol at an Olympic track meet. Instead, the 34-year-old, 13-year pro has had to fight arthritis (left knee) and a supremely talented squad (Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, Elton Brand, Lou Williams, Marreese Speights, Jrue Holiday) that’s suffering from an identity crisis while coming up a few folders short of a full filing cabinet in the purpose department.
The reloaded 2.0 Iverson Sixers, currently fourth in the weak ass Atlantic Division, second last in the still inferior Eastern Conference – barely ahead of the New Jersey Nets, (good God) – are supposed to play like Nas’ STILLmatic: Classic material that’s more modern masterwork than work that doesn’t matter. Instead, Philadelphia currently has just four wins to along with five losses (and counting) with Iverson in their lineup.
As fellow SLAMonline blogger Emry DowningHall said in a recent chat, “Air’s actually looked less selfish in the games I’ve seen of him in Philadelphia (2.0).” Adding, “I think the Sixers did the right thing (bringing Iverson in) because at the end of the day they are running a business and they need to fill the seats. Signing Iverson isn’t even a stop-loss it’s just a marketing tool.”
And it’s (somewhat exclusively) true. Before Iverson arrived, the 76ers home attendances were appalling, second to worst in the league. His arrival bumped the Sixers from 29th up to 28th, upping their average from 11,966 to 12,932. Only the Memphis Grizzlies at 11,592 and the Sacramento Kings at 12,146 are filling less seats and drawing fewer fans per home contest than Philly.
Philly native Charles Peach furthered this sentiment by expressing, “From a business standpoint the move made absolute sense. It generated a buzz at the time that you NEVER heard previously this season… Elton Brand is a nice guy but he doesn’t generate ANY excitement and has been a bust – plain and simple. When Lou Williams went down, AI was waived and the Sixers announced their poor attendance, it just made sense. The city showed up to see the first few games but it quickly fizzled out because the team went 0-3 in his first 3 games.”
DowningHall adds, “Bottom line, they had to make headlines, sell some tickets and get people talking about the team again. So it’s tough to say it wasn’t a smart play, especially because the Sixers are a distant third behind the Eagles and Phillies. The problem, with Iverson you’re not turning the franchise around, it’s that simply, teams like Oklahoma City and Sacramento knew this, that’s why they elected not to sign him, they’d rather rely on the draft to make their changes.”
On the court AI is averaging just 14 ppg, 4.5 apg (in 30-plus minutes) of what can only be called his most fractured season as pro. Clearly no longer the coolest kid on the basketball block, Iverson is starting to make himself look a lot like an aging Harrison Ford – still a name but no longer the name. Sure, on paper we want to see Ford reprise his famous Indiana Jones role. Who doesn’t want to be taken back to when Indy put on the hat, cracked his whip and found the buried treasure? Much like on all things on paper, even the older, wiser Iverson (rocking the Questions, wearing the Sixers No. 3 and appearing in Philly box score) could and does work.
The reality, as we all know, always plays out like Indy 4 did – a botched sequel that’s less an extension of greatness and more a detriment (to what once was an untouchable) legacy. Now the more I look at Iverson the more I see shades of Al Pacino’s character Lt. Vincent Hanna from the film Heat.
Recklessly chasing his prey (in Iverson’s case, the pro game), regardless of what it costs him. Readily admitting that there’s “nothing else he’d rather be doing” because “there’s nothing else he knows how to do.” Finds comfort in his hunger for the unattainable to the point it consumes like greed. Fears stepping down (or away) or even admitting that the war of attrition can’t be won because it’s injurious to a man’s character.
In easier to understand terms, it’s like the emotional baggage carried by Jake Gyllenhaal’s character Jack Twist from Brokeback Mountain. Only his (gay) lover isn’t Heath Ledger, it’s NBA hoops (trust me, this reference works)… Imagine Iverson sitting all alone (at his locker in Philly), it’s an hour before tip off, he’s holding an official Spalding ball with his money bagz… he runs his fingers over the rock and you know what he’s thinking? Yep, that’s right, it’s the famous line from Brokeback… “I wish I knew how to quit you.” (See, the reference did work.)
Iverson’s reputation (and relevance) has been brought into question because of his recent decision making and it’s easy to understand why – even with the anti-Iverson brigade blowing their trumpets loudly while the rest of us (namely me) waited to see how this whole affair would play out before casting judgment. At its height, when Iverson was still unemployed, I kept thinking, when did he become Michael Vick? Why has it become so hard for this dude to land an NBA job? What crime did he commit that was so awful no GM would possibly touch him?
Around this time (back when the Nets started 0-18) and Iverson couldn’t land a job stacking shelves at Wal-Mart, I thought, how effing crazy is this NBA roster situation? So I emailed my good friend Brian Duff to see if he could grasp this scope and he replied with this: I am wary and still thinking about the implications. Doesn’t look good for the entirety of the NBA to treat their star player like this. Imagine being Derrick Rose / Deron Williams / Tony Parker / Rajon Rondo / Brandon Jennings (!) and watching how they’re treating your prototype, no doubt you’d be a bit pissed. I was thinking the same thing about the New Jersey Nets and Minnesota Timberwolves, there’s no way that he wouldn’t help. Did you know the Wolves have Mark Blount on the books for $8 million and aren’t playing him. What the hell? Surely they can afford a basement priced Iverson?
Of course all this was (fittingly) answered when Philly came calling. It’s funny now because I know that to succeed on the basketball court a team needs talent, chemistry and players who are willing to sacrifice (but not in equal servings and necessarily in that order). Iverson isn’t that player, never has been, doesn’t know how to be, yet he still isn’t Wilt Chamberlain (chasing after stats like a lion after wildebeest). Sure he loves his playing time (DNPs are his kryptonite) almost as much as he loves his many touches but he’s never been one to put his numbers before the W, not in any direct or measurable way, and certainly not in any game I’ve seen him play. Which is interesting given Iverson has long been held as the poster child for over dribbling, selfish play and find a way to “bend the team to his style”.
Ras Kass once rapped that “if Bill Clinton was the answer, it was a stupid f**king question.” That quote / line / lyric (whatever you want to call it) not only struck me as a young and impressionable listener, and not because Hip Hop was the gospel choir of my generation but because it always made me think about Allen Iverson and appears to apply now more than ever. The quote adequately sums up Iverson’s current situation (even if it’s as an overly simplified and mean spirited one).
To understand how we got here, lets look at the NBA as though it was a Hotel chain, with the players standing in as the temporary residents who occupy the many NBA hotels – lets call them “NBA Inn’s”. That makes David Stern (and his administration), the operators of the chain of NBA Inns, with the respective franchise GMs determining who’s allowed to stay in their respective rooms as well as which floors they stay on, the room rate they pay and for how long they’re allowed to book in stay.
Note: Like any Hotel, you leave with whatever you came in with (plus an additional single serving of shampoo and conditioner). While at the hotel, you may be allowed usage of the pool, bar, room service, maids, 12th floor vending machines, house phone, spa and sauna, but once your stay is up, like so many NBA athletes over the years, you’re not afforded those privileges any longer – in fact, more often than not, someone has already booked into your room before you’re even out the door, meaning everything you did for the hotel, well all that’s instantly forgotten as the Hotel staff try their very best cater to any upcoming guests.
We’ve seen this occur countless times in the NBA, Iverson just happens to be the latest (and highest profile) name to expose the operations of the NBA’s Inns. He did his best to be a model guest while staying at the Denver Inn before hotel management decided that he’d over stayed his welcome and they made arrangements for him, and his “money” bagz to be sent to Detroit’s Inn. Only that relocation didn’t work out (because Iverson was promised a room with a view and when he arrived he realized that someone was already booked into his room).
The Detroit Inns’ staff did what they could, and asked their other guests to move down to the 6th floor, so Iverson could stay on the top floor… only that made it worse in the coming days as everyone decided that it was their right to use the Inn’s pool. This caused conflict and tension between guests. Iverson later ended up in some shitty single bedroom that featured no mini bar and no cable TV. Needless to say, he wasn’t a fan of the Detroit Inn.
Being accustomed to penthouse treatment, Iverson couldn’t handle the Detroit Inns’ lack of five-star service and he quickly booked himself into another Inn, this time in Memphis. Despite mulling over the Inn’s brochure for a few days, Iverson wasn’t happy with the room he booked upon arrival at the new by promising Memphis Inn. Iverson reluctance to stay in his room surprised hotel management because he had already accepting his fore mentioned reservation on the hotel’s sixth floor. Iverson immediately asked to be moved up to the penthouse (with a view), the kind of view he claimed he was used to seeing when he once stay at a Philly Inn.
When the Memphis Inns’ Manager couldn’t accommodate him, because those rooms were booked (and despite offering him the best room available, a cushy room on the 6th floor), Iverson decided no, that wasn’t for him and elected to pack his bag once again, despite having paid for a much longer stay.
He made a little noise (in the foyer on his way out) and left town to book back into that much needed penthouse (with a view), the one he longed for, the one in his favorite Inn (the NBA Inn located in downtown Philadelphia)… so here we are, finger crossed that you understood at least 57 percent of what was just written?
Brad Graham’s a hoop culture aficionado attempting to flee the once proud Australian basketball scene. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.