The part of the column that really shocked me was this section - nearly at the end of the column - about Allen Iverson's status as a currently-unsigned free agent:
To Iverson. The general consensus: His career as an effective player is over. How did we reach that conclusion? I have no idea. He averaged nearly 27 a game two seasons ago in Denver. Denver traded him to a declining Detroit team soon after opening night, where he was forced to play in a new system for a bad coach, and GM Joe Dumars soon made it clear Detroit traded for Iverson's expiring contract (and not Iverson himself). When the situation inevitably self-combusted and they asked Iverson to come off the bench, he "coincidentally" came down with a back injury and that was that. Meanwhile, Billups turned Denver around, enabling people to stupidly make the connection that Billups was wonderful and Iverson was the anti-Christ. Now everyone is afraid to sign him.That is Simmons at his sadly rare best.
My first question: If we're writing off Iverson for the previous paragraph, why aren't we writing off Rasheed -- just as enigmatic, just as much of a volcano, just as much of a coach killer over the years -- when Sheed played worse than Iverson did last season?
My second question: Since when was it a good idea to bet against Iverson? Name another NBA player who overcame more obstacles over the years. For ESPN's "30 For 30" documentary series that premieres this fall, one of the first films is called "The Trial of Allen Iverson" (directed by Steve James of "Hoop Dreams" fame). I have only seen a rough cut. It has a chance to become one of the most important sports documentaries ever. Why? Because you will never think of Iverson the same way again. You will like him. You will feel bad for him. You will connect with him. You will admire him in a way that you never imagined. After witnessing what he endured legally and racially -- how unfair it was, how un-American it was -- and marveling at the dignity he showed as he put his life back together afterward, I promise, you will never bet against this guy.
A few weeks ago, Iverson gave a speech in Virginia to promote his scholarship program. It was one of the best three minutes of the sports year. You probably didn't hear about it because the sports media and the blogosphere is more interested in talking about Brett Favre, Michael Vick, civil suits, how ESPN is the devil and everything else. Occasionally, some relevant stuff slips through the cracks. Like this clip, for instance. Please watch it, then tell me why everyone is so willing to count out one of the best 30 basketball players of all time, as well as one of the greatest pure athletes in the history of sports, at the tender age of 34 when he has something to prove. We have not heard the last from him. Just wait.
He looks at a situation that everyone in the sporting world seemingly has figured out and attacks it from an entirely fresh and revealing point of view.
I looked up the speech of which he spoke and to which he linked...
...and I will admit that I was taken aback by Allen Iverson's touching speech in the clip. I had forgotten Allen Iverson's high school legal troubles - the first and sadly lasting impression that many of us had of Allen Iverson (recapped from Wikipedia):
On February 14, 1993, Iverson and several of his friends became involved in an altercation with a group of white teenagers at the Circle Lanes bowling alley in Hampton, Virginia. Iverson's crowd was raucous and had to be asked to quiet down several times, and eventually a shouting duel began with another group of youths. Shortly thereafter, a huge fight erupted, pitting the white crowd against the blacks. During the fight, Iverson allegedly struck a woman in the head with a chair. He, along with three of his friends who are also African-American, were the only people arrested. Iverson, who was 17 at the time, was convicted as an adult of the felony charge of maiming by mob, a rarely used Virginia statute that was designed to combat lynching. Iverson and his supporters maintained his innocence, claiming that he left the alley as soon as the trouble began. Iverson said, "For me to be in a bowling alley where everybody in the whole place know who I am and be crackin' people upside the head with chairs and think nothin' gonna happen? That's crazy! And what kind of a man would I be to hit a girl in the head with a damn chair? I rather have em' say I hit a man with a chair, not no damn woman."I'll also admit that I had no real idea that his conviction was overturned. Instead, I just had some vague memory that he had been to jail in high school and that it was a controversial case. Clearly, I should have learned more before simply letting Iverson slip into the pigeonhole of tatooed, selfish superstar.
After Iverson spent four months at Newport News City Farm, a correctional facility in Newport News, Virginia, he was granted clemency by Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder, and the Virginia Court of Appeals overturned the conviction in 1995 for insufficient evidence.
The Allen Iverson Student Athletic Scholarship Program isn't something about which I can find much information. The only info, in fact, is here and gives no amounts or specifics about the scholarship beyond saying the requirements and mentioning the school of one of the awardees.
I hope that Simmons is right about AI. I hope, after reading Simmons's words, that AI can have a late career renaissance and not let his time in Detroit be his final image to the basketball world.
I also hope that he never loses his sense of humor about this press conference...
...because he clearly understands that it is funny...