The Plight of A.I.

The Plight of A.I.

A few months back, I wrote about the possibility of Allen Iverson coming to the Atlanta Hawks in the offseason. There was rumor then about the possibility, especially considering the 76ers were getting fed up with A.I. and that the Hawks desperately needed a star to attract fans and to give the team some hope for the future. A lot of that has been nixed with the superstar emergence of Joe Johnson and with the development of some of the young talent (Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, and Salim Stoudamire). And also, at that time, I didn’t think that the 76ers would ever really part ways with their maligned superstar. I knew they had entertained the idea, but I never thought they would pull the trigger on a possible deal.

Oh, how wrong I was. Not only are the 76ers going to deal Iverson to another team, but they are playing this ugly divorce out in public, in front of the entire sports world to see. It is a train wreck we CANNOT turn away from. It is sad to see this tragedy played out before us. He doesn’t deserve this. A player of his magnitude and excellence deserves to end his Philadelphia career in a better way than this – it just doesn’t feel right that we have seen him play his last game as a 76er. I cannot picture him in another team’s jersey. They announced last weekend that a deal would be imminent, but have yet to actually deal him. They have even cleaned his locker out and have told him to stay home and wait by the phone until a deal is done. This all leads me to the plight of Allen Iverson. The saga that is the most enigmatic player in the NBA. NEVER has there been a more controversial and polarizing character and personality in the league than Iverson. Yet, there has never been a more beloved and popular player either. He has been able to offset his detractors with his loyal fans. He appeals to the streets with his style of play, his dress, and his personality. He brought hip-hop to the forefront of the NBA. He appeals to the blue-collar crowd with his work ethic and determination on the floor. His diminutive stature and size makes the things he does on the court seem impossible. Even at 31, he still may be the quickest player in the league – and I have no idea why. He is a freak of nature – a once in a generation type athlete. It just doesn’t make sense that a 6 foot guard can get any shot against anyone on any spot on the floor. He defies logic and reason.

Who can ever forget 2001 when he carried his team to the NBA finals. How can you forget his game 1 performance against the Lakers?? What about his highlight reel crossover moves?? How about the time he broke His Airness’s ankles?? How about the emotion he showed with Larry Brown when they reached the Finals? He is a very intelligent and brash person. He knows his place in history and is very mature. We have grown up with Allen Iverson. We have seen the progression from a stubborn, brash, “fuck the world” persona to a mature Iverson that understands the importance of his legacy and his place in the league. He just gets it, he knows that the game is bigger than him and that there are bigger things in life other than basketball. He seems to understand his perception and his reality. He isn’t some stubborn kid from the streets who thinks it all about him and thinks the world is against him. He is the rare popular athlete that gets it. He isn’t perfect and has made mistakes, but more or less, has represented his team and family in an honorable and respected way. I think every fan sees some of themselves in Iverson and his struggles. They see Iverson as a human figure who is good and bad. When he tells the media that all his scoring titles mean nothing, we understand him. When he opens up to the media about the struggles he has gone through and how he is stronger because of that, we identify with him. He is REAL. He means what he says and that appeals to us. He doesn’t sugarcoat and doesn’t falsify anything. How can we ever forget his press conference where the infamous “We talking ’bout practice?” quote was stated by Allen Iverson. Was he wrong in what he said? Probably, but he said what was on his mind. He said what is probably on the mind of hundreds of other NBA players. He was real throughout, right or wrong. His life has been played out in the media from day one. All his actions have been scrutinized. Yet, that doesn’t faze him at all on the hardwood. He has played through injuries and has played through controversy, always approaching the game with a tough, hard-nosed, give-everything-I-got mentality. His play transcends his stature and his determination transcends all the scrutiny and controversy he has faced throughout the years.

His misdeeds have been well chronicled and his accomplishments well publicized. From day one, the 76ers and the city of Philadephia have embraced Iverson as their son, and in return, he has embraced the city of Philadelphia as his home and the place he wants to be. All that changed when A.I. announced that he wanted out of Philly for the first time ever in his career last week. And sadly, it seems that the fans in Philly aren’t entirely irate about him leaving. They understand that all things run their course, and this very well may be another one of them.

A.I. wants to be dealt to a contender and has every right to that. He has done so much for the city of Philadelphia, all the while never speaking ill of the city or of its people, never asking to be dealt. He always maintained that he wanted to stay a 76er for life, but now things have gone beyond the point of reparation. He finally has realized that he will NOT win a title in Philadelphia and that that is the only missing hardware from his trophy case. He is tired of busting his ass every day on a team that can’t even contend in the Leastern Conference. He needs a fresh start.

For those local fans who can’t understand the saga of Allen Iverson, I point to Michael Vick’s career in Atlanta. It is starting to mirror Iverson’s career. Both have brought hip-hop to the forefront in their respective leagues and both have been polarizing and highly scrutinized figures in their respective cities and sports. Neither has won a title and both are surrounded by a lesser supporting cast. There is no denying that both athletes have revolutionized their sports and the positions they play. Never has a quarterback done what Vick has done at that position and never has a guard Iverson’s size done what he has done. It seems like Vick is starting to overstay his welcome and that fans, unfairly or fairly, are growing weary of more and more highlights and less and less wins. Fans are clamoring for a title and are placing all that blame on Michael Vick. I hope that his story doesn’t turn out similar to Allen Iverson’s. I want Vick to retire a Falcon and as their QB, but that might not happen. He may eventually become tired of playing for a team and city he feels doesn’t fully support him, he may get tired of constantly being criticized. He may get tired of losing. I think that the love affair with Michael Vick is coming to an end in Atlanta and that people are increasingly becoming fed up and agitated with failure. He was embraced by the city when he was drafted, but now is being overly criticized and scrutnized by those very people. I don’t know how the story will play out in Atlanta, but I know that Vick and A.I. are similar enigmatic figures.

Iverson will have the last laugh. Everyone is criticizing him and saying that he is too selfish to play on another team and that he won’t push a team over the top. He is still at the top of his game and can carry a team to the promised land, if and that’s a big if, he has the supporting cast. I know it probably won’t happen, but him and KG would be a great fit. It’s funny how KG could go from having Marbury with him and then going to playing with Iverson – the two most publicized guards from that draft who will forever be linked. If Iverson retires without winning a title, it would be a shame. I have never seen an athlete give as much effort on the floor as he does, that exhibits his will on a game as much as he does. The only other player right now in the league that can match his intensity is Kobe. Iverson deserves to win a title. It would be a fairy tale ending if he were to win a title. Imagine the script of that movie: the little guy playing in the land of giants and excelling above all of them and finally achieving the ultimate goal in all of sports. It would be a colossal shame if he were to retire without a title – because he will never fully be appreciated until he gets that ring. Unfair or not, that is the reality.

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