A few quick notes:
1) Allen Iverson’s No. 3 jersey was retired last night by the Philadelphia 76ers. Iverson was a uniquely gritty and fearless player – throwing his very slight frame around with abandon night after night while logging insane minutes for most of his career. He was a fun player to watch. In discussing his legacy this morning with Ian O’Connor, Chris Broussard described him as the first player to bring hip hop culture to the NBA. I am not sure exactly to define or delineate that. But while Broussard meant that as no worse than a neutral statement about AI’s impact on the game, during the 1990s and early 2000s, he was part of a generation of players upon whom many fans turned. AI gave us one of the best soundbites in recent memory – “we talkin’ about practice?!” But that comment represented for many the bad attitude, “thuggishness” and so forth that were seen as emblematic of a new “breed” of player who didn’t do things the right way. From the the UNLV teams of the early 1990s, to the Fab Five, then the 1997 incident in which Latrell Sprewell choked his coach PJ Carlesimo in practice to the “Malice in the Palace” in November 2004, the discourse around basketball was particularly loaded, racialized and often ugly. I am not sure there’s been a time in recent memory when there seemed to be so much hostility between a fan base and its players. Iverson was a central figure in that arc.
Broussard mentioned something interesting this morning. Iverson, it’s been well-documented, has lost a lot of money in recent years. Broussard granted that the Answer has surely been loose with his millions. But he also said that at one time, Iverson was supporting more than two dozen family members and was generous to a fault. It was an interesting – and for all that players are scrutinized for off-the-field behavior – rare glimpse into the social milieu that Iverson (and I’m sure he’s not alone in this), has come from.
He was, it should be said, a wildly overrated player, for all the reasons basketball players are typically overrated. He took a ton of shots so that, even though he converted them at a poor rate, he scored a lot of points. And as much as people like to dress up this simple truth in fancy-schmancy arguments, scoring lots of points remains a key basis for most commentators’ assessments of a players value, even when they say otherwise. He wasn’t a particularly good rebounder for his position, and his assist-to-turnover ratio for his career was less than 2 to 1. For a guy who played a good bit of time at that point, that’s a very poor ratio. And as I mentioned about Russell Westbrook the other day, if you’re a “shoot first” guy, it seems reasonable to evaluate you in good part on how well you actually, you know, shoot. And Iverson was not a good shooter.
One thing AI *was* really good at was racking up defensive steals. He led the league in that category twice.
2) I can’t find the podcast yet, but O’Connor had a really nice interview this morning with Dennis Shepard, the father of Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in 1998, an event that had a galvanizing affect on gay rights activism in the United States. The Shepard family met with Jason Collins in Denver Thursday night. Collins has long worn the No. 98 in honor of the murdered Shepard, though it wasn’t until last Spring that Collins could acknowledge why he donned that uniform number. Dennis Shepard spoke movingly and eloquently this morning about his gratitude for Collins’ gesture. He also had a funny remark when, as the interview was winding down, he described gays as “boring, just like everybody else….except they dress better.”
3) In the category of “they can’t help themselves,” I heard a recap of the Knicks’ woes on ESPN radio which noted that among the things that has gone wrong this year was that Andreas Bargnani, “one of their big off-season” additions, has been hurt.
Seriously, guys. He’s a horrible, horrible, player. There’s really no circumstance in which a team is better off with him in the lineup. I know the Knicks have getting blown out on a regular basis since he was hurt, but I double-pinky promise, it’s not because Bargnani is out of the lineup, The Knicks just stink.