By Alex Groberman
Word came down today from Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski that Tracy McGrady has agreed to a one-year deal with the Detroit Pistons. Last week, Shaquille O’Neal officially inked a contract with the Boston Celtics for the latest episode in his four-year ring chasing project. In McGrady and O’Neal you have two constantly injured has beens who wouldn't be in the league anymore if not for their recognizable names.
Their contributions to their teams will be minimal, and it’s doubtful that their production will justify the headlines they have been receiving over the summer.
And yet, with all that said, at least they’re getting a shot.
Allen Iverson burst onto the NBA scene as the first overall pick of the 1996 NBA Draft. Dubbed The Answer, Iverson silenced all doubters by averaging 23.5 points per game en route to Rookie of the Year Honors. He became known all over the league as a fan favorite who impressed spectators with his talent, heart and determination. For the rest of his career, that adoration by the fans would never fade as Iverson made 11 All-Star appearances, some towards the latter portion of his career that probably weren’t entirely deserved.
Though only 6 feet tall, Iverson became recognized as a warrior by fans and critics alike. He fought against bigger and stronger defenders. He fought against the coaching staffs that tried to make him into a player that he didn’t want to be. He fought against the NBA institution when it tried to impose a strict dress code upon the players that Iverson did not agree with.
It was that warrior spirit that allowed him to overcome the odds and become a four-time scoring champion, a seven-time All NBA Player and a league MVP despite being so much smaller than the players he went up against on a nightly basis. It was his desire to beat the biggest and baddest in the association that propelled the Philadelphia Sixers to advance to the NBA Finals in 2001 where they stole a game from the eventual champions.
And it was that same warrior spirit that caused his eventual downfall. Iverson’s unquestioned stubbornness and inability to change left burnt bridges with the Sixers, Denver Nuggets, Detroit Pistons and Memphis Grizzlies.
His problem with all of those teams, particularly the last three wasn’t a lack of production. After all, he still put up a modest 14 points per game with his last three teams in his last three years. No, the biggest detriment to Iverson was his childish refusal to become a role player. It was this attitude, in particular, that left a bad taste in the mouth of anyone who worked with him.
Only now, with Iverson out of the league, do we see how truly sour it must have been. What other possible reason could there be for Iverson not getting a shot for the coming season? Sure, he’s stubborn. Yes, he’s a ballhog. Fine, he’s shown an inability to change. Yet, players like that get second, third, fourth and fifth chances in the NBA all the time. How is it that no star has stepped up to vouch for Iverson on their respective team? Why does no coach want to give him a chance?
Some have pointed to Iverson’s off-the-court issues as a cause of concern. A few months ago, Philadelphia columnist, Stephen A. Smith wrote an entire piece on Iverson’s life spiraling out of control in the last few years. How alcohol and gambling issues have essentially made Iverson the biggest liability in the NBA. In Smith’s own words: “Iverson will either drink himself into oblivion or gamble his life away.”
That said, how many athletes with off-the-court/field concerns have gotten opportunities to play despite their past mistakes? The NFL has killers (of both humans and animals) currently wearing jerseys. Major League Baseball has a bunch of dopers, liars and cheaters spread out throughout their ranks.
And yet we’re to believe that the sole reason NBA teams are hesitant to approach Iverson is because of alcohol and gambling issues? Charles Barkley has been the posterboy of bad gamblers since he first arrived in the league. Ron Artest recently admitted to abusing alcohol during his time with the Chicago Bulls. Neither was run off from the league the way Iverson has been.
No, it has to go deeper than that. Iverson’s inability to find a team to give him a chance now is vaguely familiar to his pleas being rejected by Team USA when he begged for a tryout two years ago. It’s not about a lack of faith in his skill, the powers that be in the league just don’t seem to like him very much.
Maybe it's the thug attitude and stubbornness that's turning owners off. Perhaps this is the culmination of failed opportunity after failed opportunity until finally none remained.
Regardless of the reason for Iverson not getting another shot in the league, it’s fascinating that The Answer’s career will likely end with one big question:
How bad of a teammate must Iverson have been for no players and no coaches to want to vouch for him anymore?