by Colin Donohue
So. The news has hit the wire. It’s official. Allen Iverson will become a Memphis Grizzlies basketball player. Someone find AI a nice condo on Riverside Drive or a good home out in Southwind. He’s coming to town. Maybe Shane Battier’s old place is still available.
Want to know my reaction to this whole thing? It’s either “Meh” or “Guh” or some weird combination of the two, like “Meh-Guh CONFUSING.” So now, the Grizzlies have AI and Zach Randolph, two of the biggest black holes in the league. My question for the aforementioned Stephen Hawking is whether two black holes can occupy the same space at the same time. Much like two MCs occupying the same space at the same time (thank you, Lauryn Hill and come back Fugees), this is going to be disastrous.
And it goes beyond simply shot attempts (and inevitable misses). It’s about the impact that Iverson will have on young players Rudy Gay and OJ Mayo, both of whom are and will continue to be quality players in this league. I don’t know how much longer either will remain in Memphis. (Is Beale Street enough of an incentive?) But you can’t really count on Iverson to be a steady hand and mentor to the young’uns on the Grizzlies.
The organization is disarray anyway because the owner has been trying to sell the team for years. As a result, he seemingly refuses to spend big money to bring in franchise-changing players. The on-court product has suffered, and the fans are staying away. Keep in mind, too, that Memphis is a big-time basketball town. They will show up if management decides to give winning a chance. But ever since they got fleeced in the Pau Gasol trade, they’ve been abysmal. Signing Iverson and Randolph doesn’t make them a competitor, even if it does make them slightly more competitive.
Iverson’s signing, really, is a ploy to bring fans to the team. If owner Michael Heisley can make the organization look more appealing, he might be able to unload it faster. This reeks of a selfish move on Heisley’s part.
I should probably also mention that for the longest time, I’ve been a big Allen Iverson fan. I enjoyed watching him at Georgetown, I marveled at his early career in Philadelphia, and I was wowed when he single-handedly willed his 76ers team to an NBA championship appearance. I enjoyed the way a player his size competed with reckless abandon, driving furiously down the lane for a tough lay up and and-one. I loved his defensive ability and his willingness to lock down opposing guards, particularly early in his career.
But I’ve also watched him age and lose some of that explosion and defensive desire in recent years. I’ve watched him continue to take a bulk of the offense’s shots, even when he clearly is no longer the best option on the court. And I’ve watched him overvalue his ability and worth to a team in his later years. Iverson has never been famous for having a good, positive attitude on and off the court, but it was his rough-around-the-edges personality that made him a tough, but likable, competitor. Iverson says he won’t be a team’s sixth man. That’s fine because if it means he’ll retire soon, it’s probably better that way. I don’t want my lasting impressions of AI centering on his time in Denver or his ill-conceived stint in Detroit. I certainly don’t want to picture Iverson in a Grizzlies jersey when I think back to his playing days several years from now. I’m going to remember Iverson for his time in Philly, for his hard drives to the basket, for his big-game moments, for his defensive ability, for his speed, for his toughness and for his love of the game.
The Iverson we see now is a shadow of his former self. It’s an aging superstar who’s trying desperately to cling to whatever little ability he has left, to continue to redefine his legacy, to extend his career as long as possible. I’ll never fault him for that. But some point soon, Iverson will need to have a cathartic moment, when he realizes that he was a phenomenal basketball player for almost his entire career, but his halcyon days have passed him by. The sooner he makes that recognition, the sooner he’ll be able to step away from the game gracefully.