by November 04, 2008

Always a reason to celebrate

by Matt Caputo

If someone told you he was a 20-year-old rookie right now, after watching Allen Iverson play, you‘d probably believe it. He scores in bunches. He goes to the free throw line a dozen times in a game sometimes. He gets to the basket and dunks. Iverson isn’t your average 33-year-old guard in the NBA. In his 13th year in the League, A.I. has shown some signs that he’s slowing down, but not too many.

After 832 games and 34,749 minutes in the NBA, Iverson is a better scorer now than when he was 21-years-old. He’s aged like wine–to say the very least–and his minutes per game last season still registered higher than his first four years in the League. With 23,000-plus points and counting to show for his time, there is no precedent set for how long a scoring guard of his caliber can last in the NBA.

It’s likely that Iverson missed more games to suspension than he has to injuries. His mental and physical toughness has sometimes gotten the better of him, but he is a complex individual and fierce competitor. While Iverson has become well-known for skipping practices, he’s less known for playing with broken fingers, removing a cast himself, and coaches needing equipment managers to hide his uniform from him when he’s banged up.

“Whenever he misses a game, you know he’s truly injured,” former teammate Eric Snow told USA Today in 2004. “It’s not some little nick or a hangnail. More than anything, I think he’s tough mentally. He can somehow kid himself into thinking he’s (feeling) better than he actually is. Then he has the will to get out there and will himself through it and do some things even he didn’t think he could do. It’s an amazing thing to see.”

Iverson still loves to compete and coming to the Pistons gives him a fresh start to dig down deep and produce his best work. He joins a club that isn’t just a playoff team, but a damn near given for the conference finals lately. He comes to a town that celebrates tough basketball players and, if Allen Iverson is one thing for certain, he’s that.

“Pound for pound, inch for inch, he’s the toughest,” then Atlanta Hawks general manager Billy Knight told USA Today in ‘04. “He’s the type of guy we used to say you have to kill to get him off you (in a fight). There are a lot of guys who say they are tough but aren’t genuinely. He is genuinely tough.”

The Pistons wanted to bring Iverson to Motown for some time now. A.I. should be fully focused on winning a chip, not because he’s running out of time to do so, but because he’s gone long enough in his highly decorated career without one. He probably won’t be an injury risk, it may take a minute for him to find his place on an already very good team. Despite Billups’ subtraction, Detroit is very much a veteran team that knows how to win. The Pistons have young benchwarmers who been to the Eastern Conference Finals more times than Iverson has.

While he has experienced a ton of good and bad since coming into the NBA in 1996, Iverson is on no particular pace to end his career at all. He played in all 82 games last season and probably could have this season too. Barring any unforeseen injuries, Iverson could play forever. And if his most recent relocation doesn’t win him a championship, he might have to.