You knew it had to come, an announcement of some sort that Allen Iverson had decided to pack his sneakers and stroll into the darkness. For Iverson, his NBA career came to an official end Tuesday night. It ended because no team wanted him; no team had a need for a 6-foot scoring guard who shot too much and played loose defense.
Were those his only two shortcomings, the 38-year-old Iverson might well have gotten one final look. Some team might have made a play for his skills, offering the veteran’s minimum and a chance to finish his career on the court and not on sidelines.
If a team had, Iverson would not have been standing at center court in the Wells Fargo Center and accepting the applause Philadelphia 76ers fans — men, women and children who had witnessed his glory days — gave him for a career played well. They would not use his retirement to dredge up the habits that often made them hate Iverson.
Sure, he was “The Answer,” but he was just as much a question to those folks who wanted the Sixers to be one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference. The team would never quite be that with Iverson, the enigmatic star who infused hip hop and selfishness into the hoops scene.
Daring, defiant and indefensible, Iverson was more than he looked to be. Rail thin and tattooed, he put people off with his cornrows and that urban cockiness he had dragged into the league. When other players began to mimic Iverson’s style, his detractors loathed him even more.
Yet even they were forced to admit “A.I.,” his other nickname, was a treat to watch. He put fannies in seats and he filled sportscasts night after night with highlights. He was unforgettable during his heyday, just as he was forgotten during the final days of his career.
Still, you almost hoped he had one last run – one more season in which all the pieces would come together or that, absent the star’s role for himself, he’d just accept a lesser role. Of course, he would do no such thing, which is the reason teams refused to sign him.
Since his last game in 2010, Iverson had kicked around the fringes of the game, trying to impress some coach or general manager who might give him a tryout. He didn’t seem too particular who that someone would be either. Besides, Iverson was flat broke. Having squandered millions in living the high-roller’s life, he needed the money as much as he needed the adrenaline rush.
The hardheaded fact is the NBA is a league that offers no charity. Produce and you can keep a job; stop producing, and you become a parish. Iverson became the latter.
He must have realized that over the past months, so he and the 76ers came to terms: He could retire as one of their yesteryear heroes.
Dressed in black – what other color would the antihero wear? -- Iverson took center stage, thanked fans and left the court for who knows where. He did so seemingly at peace, having made his apology on opening night for the way he had left Sixers fans, people who tolerate no betrayals from bums or from their stars.
“I gave everything I had to basketball,” Iverson told them, trying to keep his emotions in check.
What more could he have given them? They had his blood, his sweat and visions of his greatness fixed in their mind. But Allen Iverson gave them one last thing Tuesday: a farewell from a little man who played like a giant.
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(Photo: Tim Shaffer / Reuters)