If Allen Iverson were cast as a Shakespearean hero, he would die at the end of the Elizabethan writer’s tragedies. As one of a handful of players tasked with carrying the NBA in the murky post-Jordan/pre-LeBron years, the talent he possessed will get him enshrined in the Hall of Fame. And yet, something differentiated him from his contemporaries. The weathered look on his face told the story of someone who came from nothing, someone unsure of how to properly react when the spotlight was at its brightest. The way Iverson carried himself as he took the league by storm made him one of the most polarizing athletes in the history of American sports – he terrified middle-aged white Americans while selling shoes to their kids. Ask 10 different people about Allen Iverson and you’re sure to get 11 different answers.
He left the league in a manner that defines “unceremonious.” After failed stints in Detroit and Memphis, The Answer returned to the team that put his name at the top of millions of All-Star ballots – Philadelphia. What was supposed to be a glorious homecoming quickly proved to be something much less; personal problems that couldn’t be ignored forced him out of the Sixers’ lineup towards the end of February (his play had slipped as well, obviously). Iverson would not return that season. By the following summer, it was clear that the man that we so often associated with strength and pride had become a non-factor in the NBA. Without a single team willing to risk a veteran-minimum contract, Iverson bolted for Turkey. In the blink of an eye, a hero to many was tossed aside like an old issue of Sports Illustrated.
Fast-foward to present day. The inevitable conclusion of the NBA lockout will signal a hailstorm of transactions. Amongst ballers still looking for a jersey to don, we find 36-year-old Iverson, recently telling Yahoo! Sports that he isn’t ready to give up on the game that made him famous. “Hopefully, one squad will believe in me and we will go from there. That would be a lot better than having to go overseas,” The Answer said in the interview conducted while promoting his upcoming charity game set in Las Vegas.
In the interview, Iverson discusses his last year in the league and about how his personal problems weighed down his game. “That wasn’t me at all. Obviously, I was dealing with the situation with my daughter and going through a divorce, and I wasn’t there mentally. In my career those last couple years were so hard for me because I wasn’t there. Mentally, I wasn’t there,” Iverson says, referencing the poor health of his four-year-old daughter and the tumultuous relationship with his ex-wife. Claiming that his personal problems are behind him, the interview is in many ways a plea for the GMs of the NBA to give him a shot.
I’ve been a Cavs fan my entire life, but A.I. will forever be one of my all-time favorite players. His fearless cuts to the basket, his ankle-breaks and crossovers, his “fuck you” attitude – everything about him was fascinating to watch and fun to root for. And yet, for all of his personal success, his style of play seemed destined for failure. Maybe it was because he never had a worthy sidekick in his heyday, but building a team around Allen Iverson meant building a team around a player that needed 20-25 shots a game to remain effective. Imagine swapping Kobe and A.I. – would the Lakers still three-peat? What should we attribute to Iverson’s lack of a ring? He played with Carmelo Anthony for a chunk of his career and still never won it all.
Even before he left for Turkey, Allen Iverson’s career mimicked that of a tragic hero. And now, after a one-year hiatus, he wants back in the league. I’m obviously biased, but I want nothing more than for Iverson to have one more shot at going out on top. Whatever happens, it’s hard to stomach a warrior of Iverson’s stature puttering around the media, asking for teams to help him out. Here’s hoping he finds some sort of resolution soon.