Tales From the Hilltop
An intelligent, yet Devil's Advocate view of the world

Episode Eighteen: The Rise and Fall of “The Answer”

Oh, what a sad story this has turned out to be.

Today’s episode stems from what looks like to be the end of a amazing, but embattled pro basketball career of one the NBA’s greatest players, and quite possibly, the best player under 6 foot ever: Mr. Allen Iverson. His tale is one of the proverbial rise again, fall again variety where it shows that even with worldwide fame and fortune, the demons you acclimate along the way will always find a way to roost.

As a lifelong Philadelphia 76ers fan, I remember when Philly took him with the 1st pick of the 1996 NBA Draft. Back then, I didn’t know what to think about the guy. I heard he was good, but that was it. He turned out to be what the Sixer franchise needed. The guy won Rookie of the Year, and made a name for himself, not only for balling night in and night out, but for that legendary crossover of one Michael Jordan, which showed he had more heart than we all thought. However, even in this glow came a shadow: a lot of team mates, complained that “A.I.” was a very selfish, self-centered guy who didn’t know how to play team ball, and was just going out for himself. Even though sometimes it seemed evident, the Philly fans and young kids didn’t care. Dude could play…well, and the franchise had some spotlight back. A.I. was immediately hailed as the next big star.

From there, he rose to superstardom in the NBA, mostly for being a young kid from the hood – as most NBA players are – who made it to the NBA’s elite while still being himself. This was a very good but very bad thing all at the same time. A.I. was often dubbed the leader of the rising “hip-hop” generation in the NBA: dudes that seemingly take the hood with them, wherever they go, be it the big chains they wear to the games, or the crazy nightlife they’re seen promoting. Whatever the case, Reebok didn’t care. A.I. quickly got himself of shoes deal and “The Answer” shoe line sold out everyone. I know, I got two pairs myself. (not that I thought it would make me better at balling, I just liked them.)

Even still, he rose. The 2000-01 season probably was his most memorable, as he not only took the Sixers back to the NBA Finals, but earned himself the league’s Most Valuable Player award in the process. Even though the title was lost to those damned Lakers, A.I. was crowned a hero in Philly. And yet, he still faced issues off-the-court. As most of you know, a lot of ballplayers love hip-hop so much, that they try to rap on some tracks. Shaq did it, Kobe did it once, so why not A.I.? Unfortunately for him, the track 40 Bars he put out didn’t go over so well with the mainstream media, as it was largely criticized for its vulgarity, and resent towards homosexuals. Honestly, it was a regular gangsta rap song made by a NBA player who the public though shouldn’t be portraying that image.

However, from there it seemed as though A.I.’s life peaked, and had started to decline. He still were playing seasons at a high level, but the Sixers would never reach the NBA Finals again (or past the second round, for that matter), players still were complaining of selfishness, and he even got into tiffs with coaches from Larry Brown to Jim O’Brien to Chris Ford and even Sixers front office management. Unfortunately, his warrior demeanor on the court wasn’t making up for the fact the Sixers as a team wasn’t getting any better, nor were the things off the court. I remember the incident where he allegedly threw his wife out of their home, naked in the middle of the night. As loved as he was in Philly, that was the first time in his career where he was involved in a major firestorm where he media was able to get inside the player’s personal life and expose it to the world.

Well, all this came to a head in 2006, where after 11 seasons with the Sixers, A.I. was finally traded to the Denver Nuggets. Most the Sixer faithful hated this move (in fact, I believe it was one of the reasons GM Billy King got fired some time later), but even more so, A.I. just didn’t seem to gel much with the Nuggets, as they never won more than one playoff game while he was there with Carmelo. After being traded again to Detroit, it could seem like the end was starting to come, watching the games where it looked like he had definitely lost of step since the glory days as a Sixer, and his attitude worsened at this time. By the end of the 2009 season, A.I. was traded again, and after only three games in Memphis, he was released, stating that he was going to retire.

As fate would have it, A.I. was brought back to the team and city that showed him the most love: The Sixers. I was at his first home game early this season. When he was announced in the starting line-up, the place went electric, like time never left the Wachovia Center. I say this cause just to illustrate though all he had been though, through everything that had happened, the city of Philly still considers him a hero to the franchise. This time around would be short lived. As the Sixers really didn’t improve with him there (then again, no one short of Mike in prime could fix this garbage team this year), he ended leaving to care for his daughter. However, it turns out that there’s much more than that. Problem of alcohol and gambling now have surface, reports of him being banned from casinos, and even his wife has filed for divorce.

I think the end of his career right now is the least thing on his mind. But if in fact this is the last we’ll see of #3 and the elbow sleeve, no one wanted it to end like this. He brought heart and soul to a city and a fan base that’s known to wear emotions on their sleeve. He played hurt, tired, in pain, outgunned, and more often than not, still managed to lead to great things. He’s became a champion of the hood in sorts, where he called out unfair treatment like the “dress code” Commissioner Stern imposed. He one of those players that helped keep life in a league that was definitely on the decline in the post-Jordan, pre-LeBron years.

Hold your head up, A.I. We’re praying for you.

3/11/10

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