So with the Brett Favre ending his NFL iron man streak and Cliff Lee signing with the Phillies (which I’m loving, by the way) dominating the headlines lately, I felt a little sports overkill. This all changed when I learned my childhood hardwood idol would be playing and I could catch him online.
That’s right, Allen Iverson, who has had his share of troubles this year, would be playing for his Turkish club team Besiktas for the world to see. This excitement quickly diminished into disappointment upon hearing news of A.I. sitting out because of an ankle injury. Really? This from a guy who was a walking injury report, yet would still lace them up? I guess it really has come to this for one of not only the game’s greatest little men, but greatest players period.
This made me reflect on what was. The passion Iverson presented on the court. I want that feeling back. That feeling of watching an NBA game and feeling the energy as if you were on the sacred hardwood. If you didn’t grow up around the Philadelphia area in 1996, then you won’t understand what I’m talking about. But let me fill you in.
Iverson breathed life into the Sixers franchise. This was a franchise that fell off dramatically after the glory days of Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Moses Malone, Bobby Jones, Mo Cheeks and Charles Barkley. Fans now had Shawn Bradley, Dana Barros and Clarence Weatherspoon to look up to. Oh, let me not forget about Derrick Coleman and Jerry Stackhouse.
When the Sixers selected Iverson with the first pick in the 1996 draft, the game would forever change. Well, at least for me. This is when I really started to catch the basketball jones. I remember when I opened up a Reebok sneaker box and laid eyes on AI’s first signature shoe, The Question. The body of the shoe was white but the blue tip made it one of the best hoop sneaks in the game. What Iverson did in these sneaks sealed the deal for me.
Here was a 6-foot (maybe), 160-pound (maybe) guard making fools out of giants. Grabbing rebounds, dribbling full-court and dunking the ball over dudes was an amazing sight from the kid from Georgetown by way of Virginia. LeBron makes this play look routine, but “Bubba Chuck” was doing it in a much smaller frame. No one was safe, not even the game’s greatest, Michael Jeffrey Jordan.
The play still resonates in my mind. I really couldn’t understand or put into words what happened. Did he really just make MJ look like a fool? I mean, A.I. had The Greatest rocking back and forth and had the audacity to nail the two just above the charity stripe. I still have the original taping of that play and find myself popping in the VHS to recapture that feeling again.
That sight and other countless highlights (A.I. stepping over Tyronn Lue in Game 1 of the Finals against the Lakers in 2001 may be my favorite moment) gave way to disheartening news this summer. NBA teams shut Iverson out. I saw Darius Miles and Antoine Walker get another chance, but not A.I.? Here are some numbers recapping his career: 17th on the NBA’s career scoring list (24,368 points), four-time scoring champion, regular season and All-Star Game MVP’s, and he led the 2001 Sixers (who had no business making it very far in the postseason) to the Finals before falling to the Lakers. The fact that a future Hall of Famer could not even get a training camp invite is beyond me.
Yes, I will admit it; A.I. has not helped his case. There were the reports of kicking his wife out of the house naked and pulling a gun out on guys while looking for her. There were the rumors of his gambling issues while in Detroit, and yes, he really did say “practice” 24 and a half times during the infamous press conference. But in this world of second chances, it seems the sports world is willing to give three, four and even five chances.
Maybe it’s just my passion for the man I grew to idolize. Maybe I’m just in the redemption mood seeing what Michael Vick has done with the Philadelphia Eagles. Maybe there is no place for a Hall of Famer in the league. I guess A.I. has worn out his welcome. I may not get to see A.I.’s passion in an NBA uniform again. At least I have memories. I just don’t want my last memory being Allen Iverson sitting out.