World Game: EuroCup vet on playing against Allen Iverson

11.23.10 8 years ago 22 Comments

Jason Boone is a friend of the Dime family, but more relevant to this space, a center/power forward for BG Göttingen of the German pro basketball league. Today, Jason’s team is playing Besiktas Cola Turka — better known as Allen Iverson‘s squad. Jason checked in from overseas to chronicle the experience leading up to one of the biggest games of his career:

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“And that’s around the time when your Idols become your rivals / You make friends with Mike but gotta A.I. ’em for your survival.”
Drake, “Thank Me Now”

It’s funny, at first listen that was one of the lines from Drake’s debut album that stuck in my head. I remember that exact moment he was referring to. Any basketball fan would. It was the ’96-97 season when Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson first squared off. And in that first meeting, I remember A.I. didn’t have the braids or arms full of tattoos. I remember Jordan rocking the 12’s. I remember the way MJ grabbed his shorts and got in his defensive stance. I remember A.I. crossing left to right to set him up, then putting the ball back between his legs. I remember seeing Jordan a little off-balance. After that, I remember it happened … BOOM, another crossover, left to right. Jordan was almost completely turned around and Iverson went straight into a foul line jumper that was nothing but net.

At that moment, it seemed that for all the times I’d heard “Jordan Is the greatest,” he was suddenly just another NBA player on the wrong side of the saying “good offense beats good defense.” Now we all know Jordan was the best guard to ever pick up a basketball, even more so because he committed himself to locking guys up on D. But Iverson showed in that one moment, and proved again and again over the course of his NBA career, that he will forever be one of the greatest offensive players to walk the planet. I think his 25,000 career points is something like fifth all-time for guards. And for someone who put the ball in the basket a lot at New York University, it’s crazy for me to think that my four-year totals are about the same as A.I.’s worst NBA season.

By this point all you Dime readers know that Allen Iverson signed a deal with Besiktas Cola Turka, one of the three EuroCup representatives from Turkey. What you probably do not know is that my German team, BG Göttingen, has drawn them in our EuroCup group. What that means is that Allen Iverson, who all of you know, and myself, who none of you know, are going to be leading our respective teams against each other in at least two match-ups on our quest to become EuroCup champions.

(Quick background on the EuroCup: 32 teams representing 17 countries vying for the chance to be champion. Starts off with eight groups of four teams. You play six games in the opening round — a home and away against all three opponents — and the top two from each group move on. Now you have 16 teams in four groups of four. When you get to the Final 8, each team plays only one other team twice, and whoever wins both games or has the bigger scoring margin advances to the Final Four. EuroCup Final Four is like NCAA Final Four: One location, winners advance, champion crowned.)

Quicker background on me: My journey in professional basketball has landed me in several different countries — England, Ireland, Russia, France, Serbia, Montenegro, Cyprus, Holland, Germany — and against a number of present and former NBA players. Guys from Richard Jefferson, Mike Dunleavy, Gerald Green, Steve Novak and Troy Murphy. When competing against these guys, whether in a domestic Summer League or professionally abroad, it’s always a little easier to get the blood pumping. The fact is that these are top-caliber basketball players and it’s not every day that people in my position have a chance to match up against them.

But with that said, I never owned a Troy Murphy jersey, a Gerald Green headband, or a Richard Jefferson shoe. At the end of the day, with Allen Iverson coming to town, I’m getting ready to play against one of my childhood idols. And that is an opportunity, barring any NBA teams come calling, that may never come around again.

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As I’m sitting in our team’s film session, I’m trying to focus. I’m looking at their defensive tendencies, how their guards handle pressure, how their big men seal defenders, how their team runs the court, etc., etc. Normally it isn’t a problem for me to watch a game tape and rattle off who does what well or poorly (can anyone say “future graduate assistant”?), but during this film I’m losing that focus. We’re watching Allen Iverson’s first European game, the same one that I know is going to end up on Worldstar Hip-Hop next to Waka Flocka‘s new song and on top of Raz B‘s latest rant. (#Pause.) First play of the game, Besiktas is on defense and Allen Iverson is closely guarding his man in the corner. A shot goes up from the other side of the court and after some players tap the rebound around, the ball falls right in his hands. He dribbles the length of the court, eyes glued on the basket, goes behind the back right to left … crossover left to right and then back right to left … pushes off slightly on the guy checking him, steps back and releases a textbook fallaway jumper. It’s the same one the people of Philadelphia have seen him hit hundreds of times before. The crowd is holding its breath in anticipation of his first points, but the shot falls short. Anticlimactic, I know.

Contrary to what some people may believe, Iverson actually hustles back on defense (it’s still the first minute of the game) and guards the man with the ball. He gets hit on a screen (that will be a theme) but displays enough effort to get through it and get a hand up on his mans’ shot. His opponent misses, but gets his own rebound. Iverson didn’t box out. After another miss by the Serbian team and another offensive rebound by that same club, Besitkas fouls and the basket goes in. Not the start they had imagined I’m sure. Fast-forward 33 minutes (actual time) to the 5:35 mark of the second quarter. Cola Turka is holding a 5-point lead and showing their dominance, but A.I. hasn’t scored yet. The fans are still holding their breath every time he touches the ball, but up until now it’s just been jump shots that look like he literally just stepped off the plane.

But then it happens … Allen Iverson gets the ball on the wing and uses a pick to get a step on his defender. While driving left to the basket he takes the bump, puts the ball in his right hand and flips up some sort of hybrid finger roll/layup that hits the backboard, rattles around the rim and falls in. The whistle blows to signal a foul has been called and the crowd ERUPTS as he calmly walks to the free throw line. After fixing his arm sleeve and straightening his headband he looks up and rim and sinks the free throw, completing the three-point play, the old-fashioned way.

Now although I don’t play the shooting guard position, Allen Iverson and I may get to know each other a little more than one might think. As I said earlier, after watching the first few minutes of the tape, he is a player who has to get re-accustomed to the physicality that comes with playing actual games. You can try to simulate game situations during individual workouts, but all basketball players know that it’s very different trying to mimic the feeling of lacing them up five-on-five. Without giving away too much of our game plan, it’s definitely in our advantage to make this a grind-it-out type of game where we (most of the time meaning I) will look to clobber him with screens and hedges and all other types of basketball lingo that’s not important.

What is important is that by the end of the film, it became apparent that we aren’t going to be playing against the 2001 NBA MVP, or rather we are going to be playing against him AND those 9 years that have passed since.

Even though his team lost both games that he’s played in, you cannot deny the “Iverson Fever” that is sweeping across Europe these days. We had to actually relocate where our “home” game is being played to another gym because — the rumor around town is — we sold double the amount of seats our arena can hold in the first day tickets went on sale. We are playing in the European Cup this season because we won the entire European Challenge last year and I get the feeling that the fans, the city, and even the entire country are looking more forward to this first round EuroCup game. They can disguise it as our first-ever home EuroCup match, but you and I both know that if Allen Iverson wasn’t playing, there wouldn’t have been a record sellout crowd. If it wasn’t for Allen Iverson there wouldn’t be 11 different invitations in my Facebook home page and inbox inviting me to the same event worded differently. And if it wasn’t for Allen Iverson I wouldn’t be getting e-mails and tweets from people I haven’t talked to since high school wishing me good luck. It’s actually pretty incredible the impact one player can have on your social media popularity, and that’s part of the reason why I’m looking forward to this game so much.

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When I first came overseas, I told myself that I was doing this because it’s something I would have regretted not trying. I began in the 4th League and never imaged I could work my way up to top-level European competition. When it started to happen, I realized that regardless of how long my career lasts, I’m going to see things that most people don’t get to see, like where the Berlin Wall stood or where the Eiffel Tower stands. I am going to go places most people don’t get to go, like the London Bridge and the Novodevichy Convent. I’m going to get to experience things the way they were meant to be experienced, like drinking Guinness in Dublin and attending Oktoberfest in Munich.

Don’t get me wrong — I get complete and utter enjoyment out of the dunks and the blocks and the wins, but it’s more than that. When I’m telling tales of my glory days to my grandchildren in 50 years, I’m not going to remember how many rebounds I had in Holland. I might not even remember if we won or not. But I’m certainly going to remember hitching a ride from the hotel to Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light District. I’m still learning that that is what it is all about. The story is already awesome (I’m playing against Allen Iverson) with a chance to make it even better (“I dunked on him and blocked all of his shots, then we went out and got tattoos afterwards”).

– Jason Gregory Boone, #21
BG Göttingen Basketball

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