Sunday, December 06, 2009

Frankenstein's Monster Returns: Iverson a 76er Again

Allen Iverson is back in the NBA. Don’t say that you weren’t warned.

Coming to a pro basketball city near you: Petulance! Narcissism! High Maintenance!

Iverson is back—in Philadelphia, which is like the monster knocking on Frankenstein’s door. Philly created him, so now they can have him.

Iverson, the bratty little kid who thrilled us with his moves on the court and repulsed us with his moves off of it. Iverson, who claims it’s not all about him when his actions and words dictate otherwise. Iverson, who has always doth protest too much.

His original NBA team, the 76ers, are so bad off and so desperate that they signed Iverson to a one-year contract. He wept at the press conference announcing this marriage of convenience. Tears of relief, I’m sure. Iverson was thisclose to being frozen out of the league.

Iverson, when last a 76er, refused to go back into a game and had himself edited right out of the team’s highlight film. This was three years ago. A trade to Denver ensued. After a year-and-a-half trying to coexist with Carmelo Anthony, Iverson was moved again, this time to Detroit.

Another press conference. In it, Iverson repeated his desire to do “whatever it takes” to win a championship, his supposed white whale. The brat was now portraying himself as Captain Ahab.

We didn’t hear the fine print. Didn’t get the disclaimer. Maybe it was in his words, but backward-masked, like some cryptic Beatles clue telling us that Paul McCartney was dead.

The disclaimer was, Allen Iverson would do whatever it takes to win a championship, as long as it was best for Allen Iverson.

Translated: no benchy benchy.

Pistons President Joe Dumars traded one of the true good guys in the NBA, Chauncey Billups—more like Elmer’s in the Pistons locker room than we ever imagined, turns out—straight up for Iverson, and served him up for a rookie head coach’s consumption. But it was vice-versa. Iverson had Michael Curry for breakfast, lunch, and dinner—and snacked on him between meals.

Curry dared to consider a plan: bring Iverson off the bench to spell Rip Hamilton. Curry was in over his head to begin with, but when he put “Iverson” in the same sentence as “bench,” he was engulfed completely by the undertow.

But that’s OK because Dumars was using Allen Iverson, plain and simple. Iverson wasn’t a basketball player, he was an expiring contract. Dumars looked at the little brat, saw millions and millions that would come off his books in July 2009, and drooled.

Dumars couldn’t have cared less if Iverson’s stay in Detroit was as stormy as the Gulf Coast during hurricane season. Whatever was best for the Pistons—the rookie coach and the prima donna player be damned.

Dumars sacrificed his coach’s respect among the players and watched the ugliness of Iverson’s time as a Piston unfold with barely a whisper of protest. All Joe D. cared about was the money that Iverson’s expired deal would net him just in time for free agent season to open on July 1.

It was “sports is a business” to the nth degree.

So yeah, Iverson was used, no question. If Dumars says otherwise, he’s practicing revisionist history.

But Iverson didn’t play nice, and thus almost blackballed himself right out of the league.

There was a mysterious—to put it nicely—back injury that sidelined him just as Curry was about to implement his “bring A.I. off the bench” plan. Backs are funny things, don’t you know. Never can tell when they might go out on you.

Yeah, you can roll your eyes here.

Meanwhile, Billups thrived in Denver, leading the Nuggets all the way to the Western Conference Finals. But Dumars had his money.

At age 34, Iverson was virtually unwanted in the NBA. His act had worn as thin as onion skin. The summer came and went. A player with over 24,000 points couldn’t get a contract offer. The league was wising up, finally.

But then the Memphis Grizzlies came calling. P.T. Barnum was right.

The Grizzlies, whose lack of NBA success should have prompted them to change their name to the Grislies, took a flyer on Iverson.

But the pairing of the Hall of Famer Iverson and the stumbling, bumbling Grizzlies gave you that Julia Roberts-Lyle Lovett feeling.

Barely out of training camp, Iverson was at it again. He said something about not having really talked to the coach yet and sounded thinly-veiled warnings about how he would react if he wasn’t made a starter.

The Grizzlies scrambled to find Iverson a big enough bonnet and rattle. Meanwhile, they went out and signed guard Jamaal Tinsley, another head case who wasn’t even in the NBA last season. It was like buying a pistol but keeping some cyanide capsules on you just to be safe.

Iverson suited up for a couple of games with the Grizzlies, threw another hissy fit, and was allowed to take a leave of absence for “personal reasons.” Then, he said he would retire.

The league barely noticed—except for the New York Knicks, who are another column entirely. But even the Knicks, after a couple of frightful days of actually considering it, decided that it would be unwise to bring Iverson into a situation where younger players are trying to be bestowed playing time.

So Iverson stayed “retired,” but really what he was saying was that he was going to hold his breath until he turned blue.

Enter the 76ers and their 5-14 record. P.T. Barnum was right again.

Iverson wept Thursday at the presser, telling everyone that he “didn’t feel right” wearing any uniform other than a Sixer one. He spoke of being not terribly proud of some of the things he’s said and done during his career. He—get this—also said that he doesn’t need the spotlight. He said he doesn’t need any special treatment.

We’ll see.

I’m not saying that Iverson’s were crocodile tears, but I do think that he came face-to-face with the death of his NBA career and it scared the bejeebers out of him. I think his tears were tears of relief and maybe, just maybe, a touch of contriteness.

But the 76ers were 5-14 when they signed Iverson. They are nowhere near pursuing Iverson’s supposed white whale. They were dreadful without him and now have only been elevated to awful with him.

So what is Allen Iverson playing for, now?

Himself—as usual.

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