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Monday, April 6, 2009

Wrong Answer

(Hello friends and the occasional passerby that read the blog. Before I delve into this post, I just wanted to go on the record as saying that my pick for NBA MVP will be whichever guy [LeBron or Kobe, obviously] takes his team to the league's best record. I want to be on the record so I don't look like a homer if I end up picking Kobe in my season-awards-and-postseason-preview-post that I hope to write in mid-April. I'm on the record.)


I don't judge athletes for what they do off of the court. Well, not as athletes at least. The fact that Ron Artest is certifiably bonkers doesn't stop me from having mad respect for the way he can shut down any team's best 1-4 guy. Even though even Lord Voldemort thinks that Ron Artest has off-the-court issues, I still don't stop worrying about the idea of Ron Ron guarding Kobe for seven straight games in a playoff series.

The reason for this is that, ultimately, you judge people within the confines of their field. We don't judge Franklin Roosevelt negatively as a president because he had several mistresses in the White House and a drinking problem.

I'm not going to enjoy The Soloist any less because Robert Downey Junior has struggled with drug problems.

I don't think any less of my best bud Keith even though he might lose in a 1-on-1 hoops game to Phillip Seymour Hoffman's character in Along Came Polly.

Ty Cobb is in Cooperstown despite being the most racist dick of any athlete in history.

So, as you can imagine, I've never done anything except give mad props to Allen Iverson, the athlete, for his work in the arena. I haven't cared about his baggage off the court. The only thing I've concerned myself with is the fact that he is the toughest, grittiest warrior of a basketball star this side of Isiah Thomas. The fact that he's slightly repulsive off of the court doesn't stop me from enjoying what he's done on it.

And he's done a lot.

Say what you will about him, but Allen Iverson has been remarkably consistent and durable over the last 13 years. He's never had a great squad around him, but he's always gone into the lane amongst the trees to the tune of 10 All-Star selections, an MVP and three All-NBA First Team selections. He drug the likes of Eric Snow, Dikembe Mutombo, Theo Ratliff and Tyronne Hill to the Finals in 2001. If you think what LeBron was able to with the Cavs in 2007 was impressive, Iverson took just as weak a supporting cast to the Finals and won a game against the Shaq-Kobe Lakers to boot (remember that the Cavs were swept)- all while being nine inches and 75 pounds smaller that LeBron.

He's never stopped going into the lane, he's never stopped bringing it every night.

Well he hadn't.

I've never passed up the opportunity to watch Iverson play because of just how much he's always killed every night he's touched the floor. He's always seemed to care so much. His dinky frame has taken a beating during the last 13 years, and it's for that exact reason that I couldn't always help but revere him. He's never stopped going into the paint and creating contact with 7-footers.

He's been fearless.

You've surely been keeping up with the buzz surrounding A.I. recently. November saw a mega-deal that sent Iverson to Detroit, where his ability to get his own shot and create during crunch time was supposed to shake the Pistons up.

You've seen what really happened. Iverson definitely shook things up, only what he was shaking was made of glass. Somehow, he broke the Pistons. Rip Hamilton had to go to the bench, Iverson struggled, and the perennial East power Pistons were all of a sudden under .500 for the first time since 2000-01.

And when I say Iverson struggled, I mean career lows in points per game, free throws per game and, most importantly, minutes per game at 36.5. Iverson had only averaged under 40 minutes per game for an entire season once, all the way back in 97-98 in his second year in the league with the Sixers. It was obvious that he had taken a big step back. His game had been slipping over the last few years, but not to the degree that it did this year.

After Iverson came back from a "sore back" injury late last month, Pistons coach Michael Curry asked him to come off of the bench. The last coach to ask Iverson to come off of the bench was Sixers coach Chris Ford in 2004. Iverson won that battle.

This one he wouldn't.

So he kicked and screamed. He said he'd "rather retire" than come off of the bench.

He lost.

I told you that I don't judge athletes as athletes for what they do outside of their sport. I judge them for what they do in it. When Allen Iverson said that he was shutting himself down for the season on Friday because of his "sore back," I began to judge him differently as an athlete for the first time. His back isn't the problem.

He's quitting. He's quitting because he can't handle a reduced role. He won't play 20 minutes a night off of the bench because his ego tells him that he can't be anything but a team's number one option. Now that he's a number one option off of the bench, he's quitting on his team, his season, on basketball.

I've always respected Allen Iverson because, I thought, he cared about winning. I thought that the game "he dies for" meant more to him than points per game. I was of the opinion that he wanted a ring- and would do what it takes to get it.

I was wrong.

I'm not mad...

Just disappointed.

This is me judging Allen Iverson, the athlete, as a quitter.

-Jared

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