Stephen A. Smith: With Iverson, perception is the story (The Philadelphia Inquirer)
DALLAS – As reporters went from table to table, they appeared entertained by Dwight Howard, transfixed by Kobe Bryant, and mesmerized by Kevin Garnett.
Philadelphia’s perennial all-star guard, Allen Iverson used to be one of those players, too. But on the eve of the 59th annual NBA All Star Game, times have changed for the 76ers’ 11-time all-star.
Howard is the future. Garnett is a former champion who will fight to the last breath. Bryant is a current champion who will gladly facilitate the demise of both. Meanwhile Iverson is barely an afterthought, headed toward irrelevance.
Iverson, who was voted an all-star starter by the fans, declined to play in order to attend to the health of his sick daughter.
“He’s where he needs to be right now,” said George Karl, who coached Iverson for more than two seasons before trading him to Detroit for Chauncey Billups in November 2008. “Allen’s always been a guy that . . . his family is very important to him. Maybe of the 10 conversations I’ve had with him, eight of them have been about his family. So I think anytime your 3-year-old child is sick, it drives you crazy. And not having an answer yet – from what I’ve been told . . . there’s no answer about what’s wrong with her – it’s got to be tough on him. I feel for him right now. We all should.”
Karl was talking about Iverson’s problems, not his playing ability. That’s the point.
In this close-knit fraternity known as the NBA, one’s dire straits are usually preceded by questions about one’s character.
Except, with Iverson, it’s always worse.
It’s bad enough Bryant, drafted 13th overall in 1996 when Iverson was taken No. 1, has four more rings. But even after all his own troubles, Bryant is clearly respected for something more: Work ethic. Results. Dedication. Focus. All accomplished by practicing in empty arenas with the bright lights turned off.
At age 31, after 13 full seasons, those are the things being said about a world champion nicknamed the Black Mamba.
At age 34, the story – fair or not – still has not changed about Iverson.
Sickeningly, folks are sending e-mails questioning if, indeed, Iverson’s daughter is sick. A few have said they have seen him on City Avenue in Philadelphia in the a.m. hours, when reports have him with his family in Atlanta. Others are claiming the Sixers are being hoodwinked, that Iverson didn’t attend all- star weekend only because he knew it would be a public relations nightmare.
There’s not a shred of proof, of course. But it’s all in the perception Iverson has created for himself. A perception, for all of his greatness throughout the years, he has failed to change from his irresponsible ways.
Just listen to Garnett answering questions about approaching the downside of his career: “When one thing is taken away, then you apply yourself to the next thing,” he explained. “I understand that I’m a lot more patient when it comes to attacking [the basket]. In my film sessions when I’m watching by myself, I’m a lot more detailed in studying my footwork and other small things like pick-settings, my range, where I’m shooting from, etc. So I know while I may have lost something in one area, I’ll pick it up in other ways. I’m a hard worker. I’m dedicated.”
Now’s the time for Iverson to ask himself who would believe him if those words came out of his mouth.
Iverson does have his supporters, such as former coaches Larry Brown and Karl. “This guy has overachieved and surprised for so many years,” Karl said, defending Iverson. “Yeah, he might’ve lost a little something. But he’s still a damn good player. He’s just going to have to learn that the game might be changing. He might have lost something, but he might be in a place where he’s going to start playing a little more together basketball rather than trying to be the little guy that overcomes.”
At this moment, it’s no longer a preference. It’s a necessity.
Stars who have lost a step – even Bryant – are still stars. It was Bryant and Howard who were both invited back to USA Basketball by managing director Jerry Colangelo.
“Their character is part of the reason why,” Colangelo said. “Not just their game.”
Still wondering why Iverson hasn’t been mentioned much this weekend outside of concerns for his family?
I pray he knows. And plans to do something about it.