Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Concern for Iverson

Posted by Eric Fisher On July 31

Fisher column logo2You hope he’s all right. That was my first reaction when hearing that Allen Iverson didn’t show up for the BIG3 event Sunday in Dallas.

Iverson acknowledged concerns for the worst-case scenario in a recent Sports Illustrated article, saying, “I know people have been worried about me. You probably thought I was sitting in a corner in my boxers with a pistol in my hand ready to blow my damn brains out.”

Let’s hope that scenario, or anything remotely close to it, isn’t why Iverson missed an event in which, even as a player-coach, he’s the main attraction.

Let’s hope Iverson simply overslept. And if you think it’s impossible to oversleep for an event that starts after noon, you don’t know Iverson. Here is another quote from Iverson in the Sports Illustrated article: “I used to stay out until six in the morning, go to shootaround at nine and play that night at seven. I could do anything I wanted as long as I got a quick little nap before the game.”

But Iverson used to do that when he was younger. He’s 42 now. Although he was once again on the cover of Sports Illustrated earlier this month, it was the magazine’s annual “Where are they now?” edition.

Where is Iverson now? That question can be interpreted two ways. The first way is literal. Where is Iverson? That was the question being asked Sunday when he didn’t show up, without giving the league any notice, for the event in Dallas. But the question can also be asked in broader, more philosophical terms.

Iverson is still the beloved figure who wears his emotion on his sleeve, endearing himself to Philadelphia fans who want their athletes to care about winning and losing as much as the fans do. Remember his voice cracking and his eyes filling up with tears during his emotional speech last year when he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame?

On the other hand, Iverson is still the irresponsible person who frustrated coaches and Sixers fans. The BIG3, a league featuring former NBA players in 3-on-3 competition, sold Iverson as the main attraction. Instead, he has been a marginal player on the team for which he serves as player-coach. That is, at best, misleading. At worst, it’s false advertising.

The July 16 game at Wells Fargo Center was promoted as an opportunity to see Iverson play one more time on his Philly homecourt. But he didn’t play.

Iverson released a message on social media that he wasn’t going to play just a half-hour before the event began. Iverson cited “doctor’s orders,” although there wasn’t an official release from BIG3.

This behavior wasn’t an anomaly. In fact, it was consistent with Iverson’s behavior during his career. Iverson’s disdain for practice is well-documented. He seemed to view practice as an interruption of his nap time.

Iverson was consistently late. I remember waiting with other reporters in the Sixers locker room after a game while Iverson searched for an explanation for showing up late, only to have a media member throw him a life preserver by suggesting he may have had a flat tire or got stuck in traffic. (I forget the exact excuse, but remember it had something to do with his car.) The most infamous incident was when Iverson and Chris Webber, both of whom were sidelined by injuries, showed up late for fan appreciation night.

Another thing that hasn’t changed is that people make excuses for Iverson. We’ll never know how many times the public relations staff covered for Iverson while he was with the Sixers.

People are still covering for Iverson. On the Wednesday after the Philadelphia debacle, with many disappointed fans leaving at halftime, BIG3 co-founder Ice Cube said that when they went to Iverson’s room, they found him in bed. Ice Cube said the doctor advised him he couldn’t play, although it wasn’t clear if Ice Cube heard this from the doctor or was repeating what Iverson told him. No specifics regarding the medical reason why Iverson couldn’t play were revealed. Ice Cube also said that it was clear from the start that some days Iverson would play and some days he would coach. If that was clear from the start, the league did a superb job of hiding that information from the media and the general public.

Why do people cover for Iverson? For some people, like the public relations team when Iverson was with the Sixers, it’s because protecting Iverson was their job. For others, like Ice Cube, it may be because Iverson is the main selling point for his league.

But the tendency to forgive Iverson’s transgressions also may emanate from a love for Iverson. The heart he displayed during games. His incredible success as a sub-6-footer in the land of giants. The baring of his emotions, with his love for the game and desire to win in plain view for all to see. His independence and refusal to conform to society’s rules. Those are all reasons so many people root for Iverson. It’s why so many people are willing to forgive Iverson when he doesn’t live up to his responsibilities.

In many ways, Iverson hasn’t changed. But what has changed is he is no longer the transcendent star he was during his first 10 NBA seasons.

It’s been 10 years since the Sixers traded Iverson to the Nuggets. It’s been more than seven years since his swan song with the Sixers, a 25-game stint that followed a forgettable NBA tour that included time with the Nuggets, Pistons and Grizzlies (for three games).

In Sports Illustrated’s “Where are they now?” article, Iverson says, “I would never – and I know this might be selfish in some ways – be just another player. I had to be the guy who actually led the team to victory. I couldn’t be the used-to-be.”

But, despite the way that BIG3 is marketed, Iverson is clearly the “used-to-be.” He is barely just another guy, a marginal player in a 3-on-3 league featuring retired players. He jokes at the end of the Sports Illustrated article about the 3-on-3 league convincing an NBA team to sign him to a 10-day contract, but perhaps Iverson’s experience in the 3-on-3 league finally made him realize that his playing days are over.

We can only hope that, at age 42, Iverson is OK with that reality.

Actually, until we find out why he missed Sunday’s game, we must first hope that Iverson is OK. Period.

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