Allen Iverson: If Only

How many times have we said if only. If only things had been different. If only Allen Iverson had in his soul the desire to conform. If only he could have met others halfway. If only he could have eased up and hadn’t been stubborn and willful. If only Allen Iverson had a superstar teammate early in his career teaching him the value of taking over and pulling back, of sharing possessions. If only he hadn’t been traded twice. If only David Stern hadn’t designed a policy as a way of suppressing Iverson’s cultural influence. If only things had worked with him and Carmelo as it seemed to work on paper. Then perhaps Las Vegas and the summer of 2015 and Allen Iverson would not have intersected. He would not have given the stirring speech he gave in front of the current crop of NBA players. He would not have quieted the room- reminding those gathered of his flaws. In a perfect world Allen Iverson would have been nostalgic talking of his glorious NBA ride that led to multiple titles. But Allen Iverson isn’t perfect and neither is the world. He doesn’t have one championship ring.

The truth is this, no one imitates Allen Iverson any more. No one sees him. He is not playing NBA basketball even though he should be. Or perhaps he is not playing NBA basketball because he can’t be. It all comes down to the same bottom line: Allen Iverson is absent from the NBA. Whose loss is greater: the NBA’s or Allen Iverson?

Allen Iverson is 41 years old. He is one year older than Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. He is two years older than Paul Pierce. He is three years older than Kobe Bryant. All are Hall of Fame players who were active participants in their late thirties, able to add to the NBA narrative, not what they used to be of course, but attached to the NBA microcosm.

Allen Iverson was not active. Tonight he will be in the Hall of Fame.

Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant and Ray Allen and Marcus Camby and Steve Nash are the crown jewels of one of the greatest drafts in NBA History. I call it The Bold and Beautiful draft. And Iverson was the headliner of the lottery.

It is the only draft in NBA history that has produced 7 first round All Stars. It is the only lottery in NBA history that had three guards (Iverson, Bryant, Allen) redefine their position. It’s the only lottery that produced 2 MVP’s (Iverson, Bryant).

It’s hard to look at draft night in 1996 and see a young Allen Iverson and then juxtapose that image with the Iverson we see today. So much life has happened to him, the NBA and us, but as par for the course sometimes aging is not as easy as it looks and Iverson the ballplayer, the scorer, the playmaker, the volume shooter, the heart on his sleeve competitor, the folk hero who led a nation, the legend, the 40 minutes a night, the crossover, the Rookie of the Year, the cult leader was more ordinary than we expected. He would age too and make mistakes and have to recover from those mistakes and mend fences. Because he is Allen Iverson, he had to do it very publicly.

“When I leave outta the crib everyday, people always ask me- What’s up A.I.? And I tell them the same thing 99.9 percent of the time. I tell them the same fight. Different round. This world is a title fight, you know what I mean. And some rounds are A’s. Some days you are going to be good, some gonna be bad. But the only thing that matters is getting back up. And fighting again.”

It’s exactly how Allen Iverson played, how desperate he was, how relentless he was, how he could not help but begin the process all over again. When he lost and when he won Allen Iverson gave everything. On the court, he gave the NBA everything he had.

It was a spectacular era that Iverson was a part of and reminiscing doesn’t do it justice. But still. There is that wish, that if only question. If only it could have lasted a little longer. If only Iverson could have played against Steph Curry. If only life was not life. Rides end. Eras are over. You build something and just as easily you can ruin something and then you can build it up all over again. Just ask Allen Iverson, Hall of  Famer.

photo via llananba