The Saints might be the best team in the NFC, the Colts are a disaster, David Stern has admitted he was wrong about the ball, and the WAD is writing a “real” column! That’s right folks, the world is turned upside down. Ball astutely pointed out yesterday that it’s been an unacceptable length of time since I offered up a “real” column (i.e. not my weekend picks). It would be real easy for me to place all the blame on work. And, in truth, that has had a lot to do with it, but it’s not the whole story. If you must know, the biggest reason I’ve found it hard to write recently is that Reggie Ball and Chan Gailey simply sucked the soul out of me. Seriously, since the UGA loss, I haven’t been the same man. Okay, that’s not true. I’m still the same self centered, self indulgent, self gratifying prick I’ve always been, but I haven’t felt nearly as good about it over the past few weeks. And, as much as I’ve tried to get fired up about sports, including the BCS controversy, the Heisman presentation, the burgeoning NBA season, the dawn of ACC basketball, and even the trials and tribulations of the Dillon Panthers on “Friday Night Lights”, I just haven’t been able to get over the hump. Well, I’ve decided that I simply won’t let the evil duo of Gailey and Reggie to ruin another day of my life. So, with that, I’m stealing my soul back from those evil bastards and I’m moving on with my life as a sports fan.
Now that I got that off my chest, let’s talk about what I think is the most important story in all of sports right now that nobody is talking about. I, of course (or not of course since nobody is talking about it), am referring to the Alan Iverson saga in Philly. Why is this such a big deal you ask? Well, call me nuts, but I think that any time one of the greatest players of his generation demands a trade, it’s a big deal. Listen, I know that A.I. is a divisive figure. It seems that you either love him or you hate him. There is no middle ground. Well, as I’ve mentioned before in this space, I am an unabashed member of the camp of folks that love A.I. I’ll never forget the day that I became an A.I. fan. It was the 1996 Southeast Regional Final between Georgetown and UMass in the Georgia Dome. It was billed as a huge battle between Marcus Camby and A.I. Before that day, I had an impression of A.I. that was undoubtedly shaped by the popular media. I believed he was nothing more than a selfish, flashy, heist box with tattoos you only get in prison. While some of that may be true, that day in the Dome, I learned a lot more about A.I. I learned that he busted his ass on both ends of the floor for every second he was on the floor. I learned that he had more energy than anybody I had ever seen. I learned that he was the quickest human being I had ever seen. And yes, I learned that he would keep shooting even when the shots weren’t falling. But, I also learned that his mere presence on the floor somehow motivated his teammates and he somehow kept his team in a game that they no had business being in. Most of all, however, as he walked off the floor crying like a baby and crumbling into the arms of John Thompson, I learned that no one that has ever laced them up has cared more about winning than A.I. Sure, some have cared just as much, but nobody has cared more.
Now, it’s ten years later, nearly 20,000 NBA points later, 4 NBA scoring titles later, 1 NBA Rookie of the Year Later, 1 NBA MVP later, 8 All Star Games later, 2 All Star MVP’s later, 1 trip to the NBA Finals later, and all this has come from a guy that can’t even sniff 6 feet tall (I don’t care what they list him at) and is 175 lbs. soaking wet, and from a guy that has been with the same team, in one of the toughest cities in America to play any professional sport. And, after these ten historic and admittedly tumultuous years in Philly, things have finally come to a head and A.I. is on his way out, and I am upset about it…very upset. In this world of free agency and ever changing rosters, through it all, through Larry Brown and the litany of other coaches that have come through Philly over the past decade, through a collection of teammates that never contained a legitimate number 2 option, through the arrests, the rap albums, and even all the PRACTICES, the relationship between A.I. and Philly was strained to its limits, but it was never broken. He never left, and they never abandoned him. And, it seemed fitting, because every adjective that comes to mind when you think of Philly (tough, gritty, dangerous, historic, etc…) also come to mind when you think of A.I. In short, A.I. was part of Philly and Philly was part of A.I. Strangely enough, despite the fact that A.I. was often used by the media as an example of the “new school” in the NBA (because of the hip-hop, the guns, and the tattoos), he is, in fact, a throwback. He is a guy that has shown up 82 nights a year, laid his guts on the line, and given everything he had to one team and one city. That my friends is the way things used to be. That’s probably the main reason why I’ve never understood why the media and the NBA “purists” have never embraced A.I. They have never allowed themselves to look past the “new school” and see that he is actually everything from the past that they long for.
So, here we are. It will be eleven years this March since I first became an Alan Iverson fan. In those eleven years, I’ve gone from an ambitious and idealistic high school senior to a sarcastic and jaded attorney staring down the barrel of his 29th birthday. In other words, a lot has changed. But, in that time, one of the few things that has stayed constant is that I know every time I turn on the tube and watch A.I. play, I’m going to see a guy killing himself to win, and I’m going to feel the same thrill I felt that day he collapsed into John Thompson’s huge embrace. For that, I am thankful. I wish things had ended differently for him in Philly, but now that the die is cast, I just hope the inevitable trade happens fast so A.I. can get back to being the toughest and most competitive guy in the NBA. In a world where the Saints are awesome, the Colts suck, David Stern is admitting he’s wrong, and I’m actually writing a “real” column, is it too much to ask for me to have one constant in my life?