It was 1996, and Allen Iverson, known to many simply as The Truth, was on top of the world. He had just beaten the odds by becoming the number one pick in the NBA draft after two outstanding years at Georgetown University. He is listed at 6’0″, but everybody knows about the over exaggeration of height that dominates basketball player profiles around the world. To the naked eye, it is clear that Iverson does not come close to eclipsing five feet, eight inches, and it is this simple fact that has made his career so outstanding. It is easy to dominate in the NBA when one is over seven feet tall and is over three hundred pounds of pure muscle, like Shaquille O’Neil. It is easy to dominate when you are a six foot six guard with a first step that leaves every defender motionless before realizing that you are already slamming one home for two points, like Michael Jordan. But, at five feet, eight inches tall, you must truly be special to even make an impact in the NBA. Iverson has done far more than make an impact; he has cemented his name as one of the best of all time. A sure-fire hall of famer. According to NBA.COM, Allen Iverson has averaged 26.7 points per game and 6.6 assists per game over his illustrious thirteen year career. He has scored well over 24,000 points, a feat accomplished by only twenty-one other players in NBA history. Another quality that has made Iverson so special is that as the games got bigger, so did he (figuratively, of course). According to NBA.COM, Iverson’s points per game rose to almost thirty when he was in a playoff situation. He guided his team to the playoffs in eight of his thirteen seasons and single handily lead his 76ers to the NBA Championship in the 2000-2001 season. Over his career, Iverson made over two hundred million dollars in contracts alone. This number excludes all endorsements, of which Iverson had many, including his own sneaker. How then, is it possible that Iverson is now sitting at home, jobless and broke?
Allen Iverson, for all of his wonderful abilities and leadership on the court, was never really the person who a father would want his son to grow up to be. This is a man who once uttered the phrase, “Practice!?! We talkin’ about practice? We not talkin’ about a game here, we talkin’ about practice,” as if to say that practice means nothing. All the sudden, every father and coach cringed as he tried to once again validate the cliché, “you play like you practice” to every teen and preteen athlete who just viewed this nationally televised press conference. This was a man who partied like a rock star, gambled as if his bank account was a bottomless well, and drank like his liver was made of steel. He lived in the moment and never once thought about life after basketball, simply because there was never any need to. Basketball would be there forever. The money would keep flowing in. In Iverson’s warped mind, basketball could never survive without him. But it has. Basketball has moved on. Over the last couple of seasons, as Iverson’s deadly crossover has transformed into a turnover waiting to happen, and his once lethal first step has begun to look more like the technological genius that is the “Super Slo Mo Cam”, teams have seemingly felt sorry for him and sympathetically placed him on their active rosters. The Philadelphia 76ers even tried to rekindle some the the “Iverson lure” by bringing him back to Philly this year. It hasn’t worked, and as I write this, Allen Iverson is most likely finished with basketball for good. The problem is, Mr. Iverson has never had to worry about riding the pine, but now as his minutes began to decrease, his attitude was at all time worst. He was unable to handle not being the star, and this time his temper and disruptive behavior was unacceptable. Everything that he had gotten away with in the past was now a pointless burden for his team. Iverson’s star was fading fast, and he had no idea or training on how to cope with it.
Now, let us flash-forward to the present. Allen Iverson is currently sitting at home, attending to his ill daughter, and trying to figure out what is next in his life. After thirteen years of dominating the NBA and the spotlight, Iverson is now broke, drunk, soon to be divorced, and completely confused. His nearly two-hundred million dollars has been gambled away. According to the Associated Press, he has been banned by casinos in Detroit and Atlantic City because of unpaid debts. Many news outlets report that he has a severe alcohol problem, and all reports indicate that he is completely broke. Many people raise a fair argument. It is two simple words: “Who cares?” This is valid; however, it is also flawed. Yes, Allen Iverson has made more money than most people could ever dream of, but he is also unprepared. Nobody has ever taught him how to handle his finances. To a twenty-something year old kid who has just been flung into superstardom, the future is light-years away. Most only understand how to live in the present, and once a person has learned to live the life of a person who never has to worry about money, it is almost impossible to stop unless he or she is blessed with a responsible, trustworthy person in his life who will truly look after the star’s well-being, and not his own. Michael Jordan was always pictured with his father, as was Tiger Woods. Derek Jeter is constantly shown alongside both of his parents, yet Allen Iverson is never seen with anybody, but himself. He has had nobody in his life to force him to think about life after basketball. Maybe, many will argue that he is a grown man and he should be able to do so himself, but unfortunately, that is not always feasible. Allen Iverson is a tragic hero in the world of sports, and has become just one more example of an athlete who has gone from the center of attention to a nobody in a matter of months. Sports is a cruel world; one which fans complain about their favorite players’ lack of appreciation, but once the tables have turned, and the players no longer help their teams win, the fans are the first to boo their former hero, or even worse for the athlete, just completely ignore and forget about him. At least when an athlete is booed, he is still relevant in the fans’ minds. Once the booing ceases, there is silence. The silence that Allen Iverson now sits in while tending to his ill daughter. The silence that Iverson must conquer in order to live a “normal” life now that his basketball career is over. Allen Iverson is no longer relevant in the world of basketball, but that does not mean he is irrelevant. He has provided years of enjoyment for many fans of the National Basketball Association, and because of that, we, as the recipients of his decade of brilliance and highlights, owe him the respect and courtesy to make sure that he does not become irrelevant in life. Maybe then, Allen Iverson will dig himself out of the hole in which he currently resides, and become a rare former superstar who survives post superstardom.
*Statistics gathered from NBA.COM