Allen Iverson, undoubtedly one of the greatest NBA players of all time, has announced his plans to retire at the age of 34.
After agreeing terms with the Memphis Grizzlies in what appeared to be a bad fit, the high scoring guard only stayed in Grace-land long enough to suit up, come off the bench and decide that, um, thanks, but no thanks.
What appeared a bad fit from the start, Iverson simply proved the scores of critics correct by walking away from a team which wasn’t prepared to sacrifice the growth of its’ young core for the sake of an ageing superstar’s ego.
The fact that Memphis were the only team League wide to vaguely appear serious in their pursuit of the free agent should have proven a fairly dramatic wake up call for the 4 time NBA leading scorer and 2001 MVP recipient whose stock has plummeted in recent years.
The #1 pick in the 1996 Draft, Iverson’s first 10 years in the NBA showed the world a new type of basketball player, a new way to play.
Listed at a generous 6ft Iverson dominated the game in a way that was previously unthinkable for someone of such a relatively diminutive stature. His small stature allowed fans to directly relate to him; it was easier to root for a guy whose head isn’t a foot above yours.
The gaudy numbers, the cross-over, the tattoos, the outspoken nature, Iverson irrevocably changed the NBA. The influence that his infectious personality has had on the League cannot be underestimated.
Whether it be dragging his Philadelphia team to the Finals or almost breaking the ankles of one Mr Jordan, Iverson’s early career was the perfect mix of talent, stats and controversy. Un-typically outspoken for a pro athlete, Iverson guaranteed one thing: it was never going to be dull.
Despite his out spoken nature and his predisposition for difficulty, “practice?” need we say more, every GM in the League would have given their left arm to acquire The Answer at the end of the 2001 season.
So what went wrong? How have we ended up in this mess, with no team willing to take on a player guaranteed of his place in the Hall of Fame? A player who clearly has a lot to give?
The answer is apparent.
Firstly, and quite simply, Iverson’s ego is gigantic. That is not to say he was arrogant, rather he displayed the confidence in his abilities that was necessary for a small guy to continually get punished by bigger men and keep coming back for more: if he didn’t believe in himself, who would?
While playing top dog at the 76ers all was well. His numbers justified his lofty mindset. But upon his trade to the Nuggets and subsequently the Pistons, Iverson was unable to comprehend his status as anything other than ‘The Man’.
He had never been asked to be ‘The Other Guy’, the role player, the supporting act.
He could stand in front of the media day after day and reassert his dedication to the cause and his willingness to do what the coach says for the good of the team, but the reality of the situation couldn’t have been more different.
Regardless of what people think of his conduct, or his apparent ‘lack of professionalism’ in not putting his team first, Iverson is unable to play from the bench.
That is a fact and it isn’t changing. Ever.
If he is unable to play from the bench and if he is unable to lead a team on his own any more, which regardless of what Iverson says, he can’t, he can no longer play in the NBA.
At 34, Iverson is in all likelihood not done. There will be an owner just crazy enough, or in need of a boost in revenue, who will take him on.
If his retirement is permanent and he has suited up for the last time, let us not remember the grouchy Piston or the quick-as-a-flash Grizzlie. Let us remember AI the 76er. The man who showed no fear and could score points like no other.
The man who is going to the Hall.