No way to say goodbye to A.I.
The best pound-for-pound player in NBA history deserves a fonder farewell.
What type of eulogy do you write for his career?
What type of eulogy does he deserve?
Will a eulogy even be necessary?
We all know -- whether we agree with it or not -- that it isn't supposed to end this way. Not for him.
Injury, maybe. Skills diminished to the point of no return, maybe.
No team even expressing interest. Too defiant for his own good. Carmelo Anthony probably said it best: "It's tough -- just a messed-up way to go out like that."
Allen Iverson was supposed to go out, as Jamal Mashburn said, "with a celebration." A tour. Like Erving, Havlicek, Abdul-Jabbar. A parade. A showcase. The world of basketball getting to say goodbye to the "bad guy" -- it was supposed to be special.
Even in a career built by misunderstanding, Iverson was supposed to end his career finally feeling the appreciation that he never understood people held for him and his game. But now that'll never happen. Not even if Iverson decides to unofficially unretire (because he hasn't "officially" retired yet). The abrupt end he put to his career eliminated any chance for the ending it deserves.
Now, apparently, his former coaches (and some players) are going public with concern. They don't want it to end like this, either. Even his former G-Town coach, John Thompson, said he is "vehemently opposed" to Iverson's calling it quits strictly "out of frustration." Possibly the greatest pound-for-pound player to play the game -- seriously, think about that before you start calling me names -- and easily this generation's most influential ain't supposed to go out like this. Which is why at least two coaches (his former coach and nemesis in Philadelphia, Larry Brown, also weighed in) want to talk to him, to try to talk some sense into him, to get him to come back before he actually leaves.
In a perverse way, Iverson is giving "going out on your own terms" an entirely different meaning. As unfortunate as it is for him to feel forced to have to leave the game this way, he is playing a large role in why things are the way they are. My 13-year-old son, the biggest A.I. fan -- who cried when he finally met him -- now has to deal with the news that he might not ever see his hero ball again. But it's the "might" that keeps this from sounding like a funeral. Even former NBA player Kenny Smith said on TNT's Thanksgiving night broadcast that he feels A.I. will be back on someone's roster "by February."
It seems with each day that goes by in the last chapter of The Life and Times of Bubba Chuck that there's more truth to the notion that this is not the end.
When I told my son the other day that A.I. was going to call it quits, he just looked at me. I expected tears, but he simply looked at me dry-eyed and foretold the possible future.
"You can believe that if you want," he said. "But the Iverson I know would never shut it down like that."
That's exactly the same as I thought. That is exactly what everyone -- love or hate Iverson -- thought.
Or closer to the truth, exactly what everyone hopes.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.
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