Remembering Allen Iverson’s career
8. Allen Iverson as the opposition
No player merged hoops and hip hop quite like Iverson. He hung out with rappers, enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle and wore everything from baggy jerseys and jeans to gear inspired by military fatigues. By 2005, Stern had had enough. As Chris Mannix reported in the Oct. 17, 2005, issue of Sports Illustrated, Stern was championing a new look for his players with an eye toward image. Who would supply the go-to quote critical of the new dress code? Iverson, of course.
Commissioner David Stern has announced his intention to implement a dress code for inactive players on the bench and players at team functions and on road trips. Dress shirts and slacks will be mandatory; T-shirts, ‘do-rags and the velour sweats that are all the rage will be verboten. “It’s a small thing that contributes to a sense of professionalism,” said Stern.
Dress codes in the NBA are nothing new. Coaches must wear sport coats and ties or turtlenecks. (Last season, Denver’s George Karl was fined $10,000 for wearing a throwback jersey during a game.) Players don’t mind rules for sideline attire, but they object to being told what to wear away from the arena. (A league source says the policy could be announced next week.) Says Sixers guard Allen Iverson, “Just because you put a guy in a tuxedo doesn’t make him a good guy.”
The NBA’s new dress code may have rankled some–the 76ers‘ Allen Iverson said the league went “way overboard” by taking away players’ individuality.
As Phil Taylor noted in the July 7, 2008, issue of Sports Illustrated, the dress code was really a follow-up to a corporate-friendly pattern of decision-making that dated to at least 2001, when the NBA’s official Hoop Magazine erased Iverson’s tattoos.
Yet those same corporate entities want to keep that culture at arm’s length, lest it get too threatening to the paying customers. Thus we have the airbrushing of Allen Iverson’s tattoos in an NBA-produced magazine, and the league’s dress code, which makes sure the players won’t look too much like some of the musical artists the league otherwise embraces. You may call it racist and hypocritical; they call it good business.
The years following the institution of the dress code coincided with Iverson’s post-30 age-related decline. He moved from Philadelphia to Denver to Detroit to Memphis and, finally, back to Philadelphia, but his numbers just kept dropping along the way. He finally played his last NBA game, for the Sixers, on Feb. 20, 2010. All sorts of ugly off-court problems were already swirling.
9. Allen Iverson as export
It would have been naive to expect an ultra-competitive player such as Iverson to go gracefully and quickly into retirement. With age catching up and red flags mounting, Iverson elected to sign a two-year contract with Turkish club Besiktas in 2010. His hope, Chris Mannix reported in the Nov. 8, 2010, issue of Sports Illustrated, was to get another NBA shot.
“My whole thing was being wanted and being accepted by a ball club,” Iverson said. “That was the most important thing to me.”
Why is Iverson, an 11-time All-Star and one of the best little men in league history, no longer wanted in the NBA? The answer to that might just be the Answer himself. Iverson’s balking at coming off the bench with Detroit led to his banishment from the Pistons at the end of the 2008–09 season. He encountered similar problems with Memphis, which waived him after just three games in ’09. “I don’t think my basketball talents have anything to do with the reasons I’m not on an NBA roster right now,” says Iverson. “I made a lot of mistakes. And obviously it cost me.”
He has an opt-out clause in his contract after the first year, and a source close to Iverson says he is hoping a year as a good player—and a good soldier—will get him another shot in the NBA. “I’d be lying if I said [getting back to the NBA] wasn’t an issue,” says Iverson. “A lot of me not being in the NBA is my fault, but I can’t cry over that. I have to move forward.”
Iverson’s time in Turkey was brief, due to a leg injury, and the most memorable moment might very well have been his arrival at the airport. Even years removed from his prime and halfway around the world, he attracted a horde of cameras. The scene served as a tidy reminder of his global popularity and impact.
10. Allen Iverson as conquering hero
Iverson never got another NBA shot. He has kept a fairly low profile in recent years, even as stories about his gambling, drinking, financial and marital issues surfaced. Before Wednesday, he had returned to Philadelphia on two memorable occasions: in May 2012, during the Sixers’ playoff series against the Celtics; and March 2013, when he was honored with a bobblehead in his likeness. His presence drew a warm reception on both nights. He wasn’t ready to talk retirement either time.
“I’m not using that word [retirement],” he said in a televised interview on ESPN in 2012. “I want to play basketball so bad.”
Then, to CSNPhilly.com this year: “At some point it comes to an end regardless, however it comes, whether it is retirement or injury, at some point it comes to an end. I am happy and content with everything that has gone on in my life and I am just looking for the next phase, and if I get a chance to play again I would love the opportunity, but if not I will continue to just be happy.”
Now, one of the NBA’s most indomitable spirits is finally ready to concede.