Allen Iverson may or may not have blown through the sizeable fortune he amassed during his legendary 14-year NBA career. That appears to be the central point that, gauging by today’s headlines, folks walked away with after reading Bill Lyon’s Philly.com piece on the former Philadelphia 76ers superstar.
We who grew up watching Iverson do what he did walked away with something different, though.
Really, it doesn’t matter whether or not Iverson lost all $150+ million in career earnings or just most of it – it’s what the loss represents that matters.
A guy who went against the grain throughout his entire professional basketball run, who changed the NBA's culture singlehandedly because he refused to conform to what everyone expected players to say, do and behave like ultimately proved all his doubters correct. Everyone who said that Iverson’s way of doing things was wrong and that the way he carried himself would eventually lead him to ruin ended up being proven right. That’s far more significant than whether or not Iverson lost all his money or just a bunch of it.
A week or so back, a Georgia judge ruled that because Iverson was unable to pay an $860,000 jumble of owed money, interest and legal expenses, a jewelry store could tap into his personal bank account. When that didn’t solve the problem, another judge decided to garnish Iverson’s wages in order to pay the outstanding debt. Again, whether or not that debt ultimately got paid is largely irrelevant – the fact that Iverson had that much trouble paying back less than a million given all that he’s gone through is what’s most telling here.
How exactly does one get to the point where after playing in the most player salary-friendly pro league in American sports for nearly 15 years and earning at least $150 million -- not including endorsements -- they can’t pay off a tab of less than $900K?
Well, as per Lyon:
Croce, calling him by his nickname, said: "Bubba Chuck is who he is, and he will not change."
And he wouldn't, even if he could.
Because he had the Posse to support, the ones whose loyalty was guaranteed.
Their numbers varied day to day, week to week, most of them from the old neighborhood in Virginia. There might be as many as 50 for tickets to a home game. There was a hair stylist who traveled, did his corn rows two to three times a week.
Moderation was not in vogue.
There were excursions to see the Ice Man, whose handiwork included a platinum pendant made in the shape of a '3' as a tribute to A.I.'s jersey number, with 63 diamonds embedded on it. You could land airplanes on it. It was worn on a gold chain, by A.I.'s mother, Ann.
Told that she was "a real trip," Ann Iverson said: "Honey, I'm the whole package."
She was the buffer. Her word was law for the Posse. She could intuit trouble, of which there always seemed to be too much.
A.I. said: "They made me." He meant they had protected him from all of the casual violence, especially in the early days, allowing him to get where he was. Literally, they kept him alive.
And he owed them.
It’s amazing that a guy who could be so tough and hardcore when standing up to the NBA establishment could be so weak when it came to standing up to people in his own life. The player who single-handedly revolutionized the game of basketball by virtue of the style he epitomized and the way he played, amazingly, couldn’t alter the way he lived his life even after it became clear that his big paydays were in the rearview.
No, the takeaway from Iverson’s purported financial difficulties isn’t that he has financial difficulties – it’s that all of his detractors were right. We, the folks now in our early 20s that grew up idolizing him and the way he shaped basketball culture as we saw it, we were wrong. They were right. Iverson is just someone who rebelled when it ultimately mattered least but found found a way to mess things up for himself when it mattered most, just like all the players we always figured he was so much better than.
It doesn’t matter if he has a couple of hundred grand left in his bank account. Or even if he has a couple of million left in his back account, really. The lesson here remains the same.
Iverson may have been TheAnswer on the court, but off of it he was just as confused and lost as Terrell Owens, Mike Tyson and every other polarizing star that carelessly frittered away their fortunes.
The only difference is that we mistakenly figured he was different.
Joke's on us.
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