In case you haven't seen this already, you should watch it before reading on:
If you read this site regularly, then you already know how critical I am of Allen Iverson. I simply don't believe he ranks among the greatest players of all time. Not in the top 50 anyway. I think he's a careless, inefficient shooter who needs to dominate the basketball to be effective, and his effectiveness (read that, ball hoggery) has often come at the expense of his teammates. Furthermore, his "defense" consists of gambling for steals and getting pushed around/shot over by bigger guards (which is just about every guard).
You can disagree with me all you want, but bigtime scorers -- and Iverson ranks pretty high in the league's all-time scoring list -- usually don't languish away, alone and unwanted, when they hit free agency. Not when they clearly have something left in the tank. But that's exactly what happened to Iverson last summer, and it happened with good reason. The lowly Memphis Grizzlies were the only team eventually willing to give him a chance, and he played exactly one game for them before stirring up controversy about having to come off the bench. Forget the fact that he was both out of shape and returning from an injury that had prevented him from playing and practicing with his teammates during the preseason.
He didn't get it. He's never gotten it. Not really. Not fully.
Now he's back with the Philadelphia 76ers, the team that drafted him and helped him reach MVP status. Sure, the Sixers only had one great season during the Iverson era. But the team's failings were often foisted on his teammates. And the feeling was that, if Iverson could only be surrounded by other talented, proven players, that he would finally become the consistent winner everyone expected him to be. Well, he got his chances, but things didn't work out with the Nuggets (who traded him for Chauncey Billups and immediately became a better team) or the Pistons (whose fall from grace after acquiring Iverson was as shocking as it was immediate). By the end of his time in Detroit, the Pistons didn't even want him around...and by the end of the season he had been exiled.
But that brings us back to that video of his press conference. I have and will always question Iverson's relative greatness, but I will not (nor could I reasonably) question his passion and desire for the game. Iverson is a warrior. He's tough. He's mean. When he's on the court, Iverson has the eyes of a killer. A.I. wants it. You can tell he wants it, wants to win, wants to be appreciated and loved. And he can play! The dude can score and create with the best of them.
That's what's so galling about Iverson. He has everything you want, every talent necessary for the game of basketball (if not the size). He has everything...except that fundamental understanding of what it takes to succeed. Sacrifice. Not sacrifice of body and effort. Iverson has sacrificed himself physically as much or moreso than anybody. I'm talking about sacrificing shots, sacrificing touches, sacrificing the role (starter) and minutes (lots of him) he wants for the betterment of the team. In Iverson's world, it has always been His Way or No Way. That's the real reason nobody wanted him over the summer. That's why nobody wanted him all that badly when the Grizzlies waived him. Sure, the Knicks were interested -- they're about as hapless as a team not named "The New Jersey Nets" or "Minnesota Timberwolves" can get -- and now the Sixers have signed him.
But what does that mean?
Philly is 5-14 and they've lost eight games in a row. (Although they've had a brutal schedule that's included games against the Cavs, Celtics, Hawks, Mavs and Spurs.) Do they think A.I. can fix them? Well, with Louis Williams out two months with a broken jaw, the Sixers can use some relief at point guard. But he's a temporary fix at best, a stop gap more than The Answer. But it's more likely that bringing Iverson back is a public relations move. It's the return of a former hero for what could amount to a retirement tour. That's sure to distract fans from all the losing...not to mention Elton Brand's cap killing contract.
It's possible Iverson's return could give the Sixers a mini-boost. Although their upcoming schedule is pretty tough: at Charlotte (the 'Cats are 6-3 at home), then home against the Nuggets, Pistons, Rockets, Warriors and Cavs, and then they play seven of their next eight games on the road...a stretch that starts in Boston and ends in Denver. Fortunately, Philly gets to play the injury-plagued Pistons, the defenseless Warriors, the Wizards Generals and Clippers (twice) during that stretch. So who knows? Maybe Philly can go .500 during Iverson's first 20 games or so. Maybe.
I have to admit, I feel genuinely bad for Iverson. I really don't believe his inefficiency (at best) and selfishness (at worst) is intentional. He simply doesn't know any other way. It's the story of the Scorpion and the Frog all over again: it's his nature. Maybe it's because his coaches never stood up to him early on. The only coach that ever tried the tough love angle with A.I. was Chris Ford. Want to know how that turned out? (Well, before Ford got fired, anyway.) "This led to a number of contentious incidents, including Iverson being suspended for missing practice, fined for failing to notify Ford that Iverson would not attend a game because he was sick, and refusing to play in game because he felt 'insulted' that Ford wanted Iverson to come off the bench as he worked his way back from an injury." Sound familiar? Some things never change...and probably never will.
And it's too bad. Because if you look in Iverson's eyes, and when you hear him get all choked up about playing basketball, you can tell he wants it. But he's never going to get it.