Is This The End?
For AIlen Iverson, it should be.
by Doobie okon
I think that it is a blessing that I am back here. I think that it is only right. Once I announced my retirement, I felt like the basketball part of my life was over. I always thought that once that day came that I would be sad, but once I did I was happy. I felt like I could give my wife and kids something that I hadn’t been able to give them because of the NBA lifestyle. I was done. But then I got the call from my agent that said that I might be able to come back home. — Allen Iverson, December 3rd, 2009.
Home. It’s an interesting phenomenon when dealing with athletes–the concept of having a ‘home’ in a sports city. Does Michael Jordan consider Chicago his home, even though he was born in Brooklyn and grew up and went to college in North Carolina? What about Kobe and L.A.? Duncan and San Antonio? Bird and Boston?
But as I sat there and watched my childhood hero at his press conference, the day after he signed on to return to Philadelphia, I knew the Answer was truly home. He didn’t have to say it. He fought back tears. He looked worn out from the past three hectic years since leaving the Sixers, and what I saw was a man who was just ready and happy to be back where he belongs. No more accolades needed, no more praise warranted. Allen just wanted Philly.
Iverson’s tenure with the Sixers this season was short. He only played in 25 games until the organization announced this past week that he would not return this season due to his daughter’s illness. It’s a sad way to go out, but life is just not so fair sometimes. Sure, it would’ve been great to have Allen start in the Sixers’ last home game this year (April 12th against Miami). Fans would have come out to see the last game he’d play in a Sixers uniform, and he would’ve gotten the proper respect and applause he deserves from his home crowd.
Instead his last home game will go down as a 7-point effort on February 19th against the Spurs (with his actual final game being the following day in Chicago in a 32 point loss). He doesn’t deserve that sort of a quiet exit, but it’s not to be harped on.
This isn’t about the expectations and contributions that came with his return to the Sixers. Let’s face facts: when AI signed on, the team was 5-14 and in the midst of a 12 game losing streak. Nobody was realistically thinking that Iverson would immediately step in to his old body and put up 30 a night to lead Philly back to the Playoffs, let alone the Finals. This team is in complete shambles and has been the entire season, from the GM to the coach to the players. This is really just about giving a misunderstood yet beloved athlete some semblance of a happy ending where it all started and bloomed.
I’m not going to sit here and list Iverson’s lofty stats or numerous awards and distinctions. We all know about his incredible first-step, the crossover, the drives and all the amazing things he’s been able to do with such a small frame over the years. Instead the only statistic I will bring up is the most telling of his current condition–free-throws. AI is currently 12th all-time in free-throw attempts, and 10th in free-throws made. If you look at the leaderboard in that respect, Iverson is by far the smallest player with only Jerry West being a comparable body. That should be enough proof at the beating Iverson took in the paint night in and night out. It has taken its toll on the 14-year veteran.
But even with a worn out body, Iverson still gave that same incredible effort on the court every night this season. No matter what ever went off the hardwood in his personal life, that’s one thing we, as fans, could always count on. Interestingly enough, when I covered the Sixers-Cavs game on December 16th, Allen was the only player in the locker room who seemed truly disgusted with the loss. He always wanted to win. That never changed.
AI is such a polarizing athlete, that many will remember him in such different ways. It’s best illustrated by Allen’s current situation. Even his exit from this team, which should be a golden one, he leaves to never-ending criticisms and off the court issues with his wife. Whatever that turns out to be, that’s his personal life and should be a separate thought regarding what he gave us as Philly fans, basketball lovers and all types of people who just loved the effort and style. Not to mention sporting that ill jersey.
Some will remember the good, others the negatives For me, I will remember it all, because he was a misguided kid who matured in the eyes of this city. Sure, he made mistakes along the way, but it’s part of growing up. After all, he was my guy when I was growing up.
I’ll always remember 2001 and what that year did for me as a Philadelphia sports fan. That Finals run, led by the six-foot MVP, played an integral part in why I want to make a career in sports writing. I don’t know if I would be as passionate about my teams and about sports in general had Allen not showed that kind of devotion on the court itself.
Furthermore, when I played ball in high school, I certainly never tried to emulate Iverson’s style of play. That was just too difficult to mirror. But in my effort and hustle–always. There’s nobody better to learn from in that respect. And that’s something special.
Allen’s basketball days may be over now, and they probably should be. He’s back in the only city that’s ever truly embraced him and he should retire here. It’s just fitting and seems right. Might he decide to give it one more go with another team? It’s definitely not out of the realm of possibility, as Allen’s always been an enigma with his decision-making. I was hoping he would get a ring somewhere, if not here, but at this point would it even mean as much to him if he wasn’t playing a key role on a championship team? Would it mean as much to him if it wasn’t with the Sixers? Deep down, I just don’t think so. This is where Allen needs to finish.
And of course, now that the Iverson experiment has ended after such a short period with minimal results (13.8 points in 25 games with the Sixers going 10-15 when he played), sportswriters in Philly and around the nation are trashing the Sixers for making such a ‘pointless’ move by signing him. I say it was the only thing they did right all year. Bottom-line: it was just comforting seeing this legend in a Sixers uniform again, and that’s all there is to it.
The rafters in the Wachovia center are ready with open arms to welcome the number three jersey up next to Erving, Chamberlain, Barkley, Cheeks, Jones, Cunningham and Greer. Thank you for the memories, Allen. Take care of your family and rest easy. You’re home now.