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Allen Iverson : The Unsung Hero (Opinion)

I originally wrote this Op-Ed for TheWellVersed.com (currently down) back in February 2012, it's something I've revisited given the circumstances of recent events regarding Allen Iverson.

I wanted to write something new, but realized nothing captured my feelings on the moment more than this. A couple of weeks ago his retirement didn't surprise me, it was almost expected, but last year I still had hope for my favorite player of all time. I didn't see a need in doing another one, but I was compelled to share this to those that may still appreciate it even a year and a half late. I wrote it from a very subjective viewpoint, but an honest one at that.

*Note that it is of course dated, I mean 2012 may have been a lifetime ago. New Orleans was still league owned, in fact New Orleans were still known as the Hornets.

--Esau Howard

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"People wanted me to be 35 years old right then. This guy with all this talent, this guy who has the effect on all these people in the World like this, we want him to be this way. Well, I didn't want to be that." Allen Iverson

It’s hard to believe that one of the most iconic figures in the history of sports has fallen on hard times. In fact that may actually be an understatement. To imagine a world where Allen Iverson is all but exiled from the sport that he’s given his all to, time after time isn’t one that anyone should want to live in. With that said it’s the reality of the situation, and it’s as hard to write about as it is to even fathom.

Excluding the modern day trend that makes it cool for society to ignore past achievements in favor for prisoner of the moment hype, let’s not forget why Allen Iverson is such a big deal. At one point he was considered the greatest player to ever come out of arguably the greatest draft (1996) in NBA history. Yes there will always be cases made for the ’84 and as time progresses the ’03 Drafts, but bottom line is the ’96 class is the stuff of legends. Obviously in 2012 it’s not even a question that Kobe Bryant has proven to be the champion of that class, but nobody can say that Iverson didn’t have a legit claim to it for a long time.

4 time NBA Scoring Champion, 11 Time NBA All Star, and a 2001 NBA MVP title are just some of the accolades that make Iverson an automatic bid for the Hall of Fame when the time comes. Yet anyone who has ever appreciated Allen Iverson as an athlete will tell you that it’s not the stats that make him the icon that he is. No, it’s the intangibles that really define him.

Much shorter than the average NBA shooting guard, Iverson made up for his height with his heart. Personal opinions aside there was never a time when he stepped on that court and didn’t perform to the best of his ability win or lose. His style of play has always been unorthodox, but then again in the eyes of America everything about him was unorthodox. From the way he carried himself, to the way he dressed, and even to the way he chose to style his hair. Any man who had cornrows between 96-06 has no choice but to credit that to Allen Iverson. He made that a phenomenon more than any rapper could have at the time.

A.I. was a product of the Hip Hop Generation, and made sure the world knew it. Middle America and the media criticized, and shunned him every chance they got, but the rest of us knew the deal. He was being himself, and refused to change for anybody. When the media chastised him for his sporadic run-ins with the law, we shrugged it off. When reports came about that he may or not of had a gambling problem, we took it as their way of saying he was just balling out of control, no harm no foul. You see those that have grown up in the Hip Hop generation have seen our share of heroes misrepresented without justification. Yeah A.I. wasn’t exactly a perfect guy, but neither is George Bush and we watched various media sources praise him for 8 years. They didn't understand him, and if they did they certainly did their share of making it hard for Middle America to embrace him. That didn't stop the rest of us though, if anything we just cheered harder. We know the difference between a thug, and someone who just doesn't feel the need to portray themselves outside of their own character.

You see, A.I. came to the NBA at a time when most players were still conforming to fit the standards that were expected of them. Iverson not only did the opposite, but he made it known that he wasn’t going to change who he was. This rebellious attitude gave inspiration to plenty of kids all over the nation who had hoop dreams that didn’t come from preparatory school backgrounds or middle class homes. He represented for those that just couldn’t fit in with the collared shirt and tie life, because at the end of the day we all want to be able to live life as we see fit. Living up to others expectations have caused many live unbearable lives that they hate. Iverson wasn’t the first to do his own thing, but he was definitely in a position for those who weren’t to see and take pride in.

Of course Iverson’s story in recent years could best be seen as an example of "When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong". It was one thing to embrace the culture that he came from, but it was another for him to allow that to change how he did business. Cultural icon without question, but his profession was to be the best basketball player to his team, which he hasn’t always been in the past. Do not get it twisted at 35 years old, do not think for a second that age is the reason he can not get a deal in the NBA today. No, his lack of work ethic, problematic behavior off the court, and unwillingness to put his ego aside are all major reasons why A.I. isn’t being given a chance to play the game that he loves. When the game was on the line nobody could question that he was all in. Yet it’s the things he does off the court which keep him sidelined, and fair or not, that’s the reality of the situation.

Your not going to see the word practice thrown in here 30 times, but regardless of how hilarious that classic interview was, it’s impressions like that which last a lifetime. His off season conditioning was always non existent, and he often clashed with coaches, and when you’re the best player in the league you can get away with that. Hard to make that same case today when peers from your draft class are still in the league performing at high levels, and A.I. last appearance in the NBA was for a Sixers team that didn’t mind him taking a leave of absence never to return. David Stern and League officials couldn’t wait for a chance to justifiably rid themselves of his presence. Let’s be real, the League owned New Orleans Hornets are in no position to deny a player with even half of Iverson ability, and even their not offering him a deal.

Let’s not digress though, because the point of this isn’t to condemn the man. No, we will let those other media guys handle that. Instead we will just focus on why there will always be fans championing for A.I. Whether he realized it a the time or not, when he stepped on that court or conducted an interview, he represented an entire generation, and made it proud. We have seen our share of heroes deal with their own struggles, from money woes to trouble with the law, and we are well aware that at the end of the day, they are as perfect as the next person.

No idea what the future has in store for Allen Iverson, and this writer certainly hopes that it doesn’t involve playing soccer. Maybe some team will take a chance and allow us just one more opportunity to see A.I. play just one more game, maybe not. What we do know is he will indeed be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and when that day comes people across the nation will remember #3 for what he was, and not what those that will never understand, wanted him to be.

Another user-created LB joint.

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