- LZ Granderson, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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We all knew his career as a starter was, at best, limping along the past two seasons. But after seeing this week's headline/eulogy, "Allen Iverson talking to China Team," I guess it's official.
The plug has been pulled.
The doors have been shut.
The player formerly known as A.I. is dead and we'll need a passport to attend the funeral.
If Iverson signs with a team in the Chinese Basketball Association (joining Stephon Marbury, who ended up there last season), a trend might develop. The league might be turning into a final stop for has-beens who have little to offer outside of fame. Especially if Steve Francis, who also has expressed interest in China, joins the fun. I guess if a team can roll out the red carpet for a guy who eats Vaseline, Francis and Iverson should be no problem. At the worst, Iverson would generate buzz and probably would be a sound business investment given the NBA's popularity there.
For Marbury and Francis, who haven't mattered in the NBA in years, it makes sense. But I didn't understand Iverson at first. He was just voted into the All-Star Game last season. Did he manage his millions so poorly that he has no choice but to keep playing for as much as he can get, especially with a costly divorce imminent? Or is it that even at age 35, he still sees himself as a starter and would cross an ocean to do it before he comes off an NBA bench?
I found my answer in the quotes of Gary Moore, Iverson's personal manager, in this week's story.
"We're very astonished, to say the least, that not one team has contacted us with any interest," Moore said. "I just don't understand it.
"What has Allen Iverson done to not warrant interest in him?"
He's kidding, right?
I mean, what hasn't Allen Iverson done?
He's fought with coaches and abandoned teams, and that's just in the past year. During his career he also was arrested, took a leak in public, allegedly kicked his soon-to-be ex-wife out of the house naked after an argument and showed up late to a practice with the 2004 U.S. Olympic team, causing him to be benched for one of the exhibition games.
Yep, we're still talking about practice.
So I don't know, Mr. Moore. Why do you think none of the 30 GMs gave you a call?
I suspect that Moore's comments might give us a clue about why Iverson is ending up the way he is and why he can serve as a cautionary tale for the next generation of athletes. Iverson, like many other high-profile athletes, has been surrounded throughout his career by people who like to say yes to him. Maybe Moore isn't one of them, but his remarks about the NBA and Iverson suggest his personal manager might not be helping his client deal with reality. There is a significant difference between people who support you and people who enable you during tough times. The ones who support you don't tell you your s--- don't stink. They open the window and hand you a can of air freshener.
What Moore should've done is pull a Minnesota Timberwolves and take out a full-page ad admitting to fans that Team Iverson screwed up and that no NBA team is willing to take a chance on him. Instead, he insulted our intelligence by insinuating that Iverson is somehow being victimized by the league, essentially ignoring the laundry list of offenses that grew with each turbulent stop.
As long as Iverson had something to offer, the NBA was willing to put up with him. But now an iconic player can't even offer "veteran leadership" to a squad in the twilight of his career. It just seems as if Iverson never believed he was eventually going to get there if he kept heading in the direction he was going. And now that he's jobless, Moore claims he doesn't know why. That either makes him a liar or clueless, and neither is a valuable trait in a sounding board for a star.
Entertaining offers from China is a sad and dissatisfying way for fans to see a player of Iverson's magnitude leave the NBA. And yet, when I hear Moore ask, "What has Allen Iverson done?" I'm so insulted by the question that perhaps fading into obscurity is the most appropriate end to his career. No more teary-eyed news conferences and hollow quotes about being a team player and making a fresh start. Just go to China and take your band of merry yes-men with you.
I'm not anti-posse, anti-entourage or whatever you want to call the people an athlete hangs with; but if honest conversation and disagreements threaten that support-system bond, chances are that friendship is being brought to you by the letter "$." It might be too late for Iverson to learn that lesson. But hopefully, there's still enough time for someone else.
LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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