It wasn't too long ago that Allen Iverson was the face of the NBA, for reasons that were tailor made to everyone's perception of him. To me, he was one of the greatest offensive minds to ever step foot on the hardwood -- an unfathomable hybrid of Nate Archibald's size-defying athletic ability and the valor of a lion zeroing in on his prey. But for the 13 years that he's been in the league, Iverson has often been the hunted more than the hunter.
From being one of the first players to rock those signature cornrows, to his hood-inspired attire and eye-blinding jewels (one can argue that A.I. was the driving force behind the NBA's new dress code, which he detested) and in-between dropping a hip-hop album that never made it to the pressing plant, Iverson has brought a complexity to the sports world that will never be duplicated. Of course, many know him for his mistakes that eventually make the newsreels -- most recently having to pay $260,000 for his involvement in a bar fight in Washington, D.C -- but many don't look past his faults and embrace the genuine honesty that encompasses his core. He wears his heart on his sleeve, as we have seen him shed tears numerous times after coming up short in the playoffs and choke up with emotion when talking about his former coach and combatant, Larry Brown. All of these characteristics paint Allen Iverson as a man who is always searching to learn from past transgressions as he travels through the everyday grind of life.
Looking back over the years, I wonder if The Answer has any regrets on his career. As he's heading toward the twilight of his glory days, I fear that a nagging back injury -- or his bruised ego for taking a sixth man role, depending on who you ask -- just might bring a premature end to his career. And what a career it's been: 1996-97 Rookie of the Year, four scoring titles, two NBA All-Star MVP awards and a 2001 NBA MVP honor to go along with the only appearance he's ever made in the NBA Finals. The door has closed for Allen Iverson to ever put a team on his ailing back and take them to the promised land, but I'm hopeful that one day he'll be able to couple a Sixth Man award with a NBA Championship Ring.
But I doubt that will happen with the Pistons, just like it didn't happen with the Denver Nuggets. It seems, in all honesty, that when Allen Iverson leaves a team, they expediently start to play better basketball. It happened with Philadelphia and Denver, where young guns Andre Iguodala and Carmelo Anthony have adjusted to being the go-to guys for their respective teams as they prepare for their push in the playoffs. The "Iverson Effect" might also happen in Detroit, if they decide to cut their losses with the star guard this summer. The month of June will also, God willing, see Mr. Iverson looking at 34 years on this earth. But this season's mishap in Motor City can't all be blamed on A.I. -- it's just been an injury-riddled, miserable year for the Pistons, as they continue to stumble toward a playoff seed in the East with a sub-.500 record.
Alas, my thoughts go back to A.I. and those regrets. I wonder if he wishes he had listened more to Larry Brown instead of battling him to the very end of their days together in Philadelphia -- as Brown would take the system he tiredly preached to Iverson and bring it to Detroit to win the 2004 NBA title. I wonder if he regrets his 2002 "Practice" tirade that has since become a youtube sensation, a tirade that sort of fed into the silly perception that young black athletes are born to run and jump and don't take the time to hone their skills. I wonder if he wishes he would've listened to all of his critics and gave in to all of the condemnation they threw in his vicinity: he shoots too much, he's a terrible teammate, he's too small to build a championship team around.....etc, etc. I've come to realize, nearly eight years after being heartbroken when the Sixers lost Game 5 to the Lakers in those 2001 NBA Finals, that everything happens for a reason -- no matter how many shoulda's, coulda's and woulda's we all scroll through in our memory banks.
I'm hoping that Iverson is able to shake off those painful back spasms, as he now comes back fresh for a struggling Detroit squad as their sixth man. Maybe, just maybe, he'll drive a blazing campaign for the Pistons that leads them back to the Eastern Conference Finals. If not, I hope he can find a championship-caliber roster where he can rest his aching body, come off the bench and contribute to catching that ever-elusive hanging banner he's been chasing his entire career. Just as Kevin Garnett had to forsake his beloved 'Sota to acquire the hardware in Beantown, it seems that Iverson will have to play a lesser role with the orange globe in his hands to acquire his.
If Iverson never gets to clutch and kiss the golden O'Brien, it certainly won't take anything away from the incredible body of work that he has put together -- a body of work we have been able to witness night in and night out, when his 6'0, 180 pound frame is up to the task. When it's all said and done, the future Hall of Famer can go back home to Virginia and build a dream home he can retire to. As he watches the sunset while sitting on his porch with his kids, he can enlighten them. With that million dollar smile, he can tell his seeds about the time he made the mighty Michael Jordan take a bit of a stumble with his dangerous crossover dribble.
"Who's Michael Jordan?" his kids might ask.
Then Allen Iverson will probably laugh at the years and tears that have zoomed by, looking toward the dimming sun as it starts to hide behind the Heavenly skies.