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Thursday, December 14, 2006
A.I.: Reader feedback

By Bill Simmons
Page 2

We received an overwhelming amount of feedback for Wednesday's Iverson column (nearly 2,000 e-mails in 24 hours) and 90 percent of the e-mails were from readers either thanking me for defending Iverson, passing along Iverson stories or simply writing in to express their sincere sadness that he's leaving Philly. I'd say that two-thirds of those e-mails were from the Philly area and the others were spread around the rest of the country, but all of them had the same thing in common: They were from people who took time out of their day just to pass along their appreciation for a great player.

Anyway, I thought we'd run some of the best pro-Iverson e-mails here. And I'm not doing it to bang home the main point from yesterday's column -- that Iverson is more special than most casual fans, writers and broadcasters seem to realize -- but because I enjoyed these particular e-mails and thought they did a nice job of augmenting yesterday's piece. As always, thanks to everyone who takes the time to write in.


City: Philadelphia
Name: Brad
I've been watching Iverson for years and have never seen anyone in any sport come close to the presence, intensity and domination that he exhibits on a nightly basis. This guy has played his heart out in every game for the Sixers, who have done nothing but surround him with crappy players and threaten to trade him almost every year. In a city starved for a championship, all we have as sports fans is fight, heart and the hope that we can soon win something. Iverson defines all of those characteristics and, as he is leaving (in horrible fashion), I am hard pressed to remember a time in Philly sports with a more bleak future. I only hope that where ever he ends up, he wins a championship, because a player of his caliber deserves nothing less. And I sent Billy King a turd sandwich last week.

City: Stroudsburg, Pa.
Name: Jeremy T.
I've been listening to these guys bash Iverson for a week straight and I just sit here in disbelief. I'm a Sixers season-ticket holder but only became a fan after I saw Allen live in person. As you said, you can't understand the talent of A.I. until your there in person and see the way he takes over an entire arena. I'm just sitting back waiting to find out who my new favorite team is.

City: Philadelphia
Name: Adam
I had Sixers season tickets for five years and watched them lose Game 5 of the 2001 Finals in person. I've seen Iverson break ankles and drop 50 on people and I have never in my life heard someone curse as much as him. If I see Billy King on the street after the inevitable Iverson trade I'm going to punch him in the kidney, take $1 out of his wallet and give him 50 cents and ask him how it feels.

City: Reading, Pa.
Name: Jeff
Allen Iverson sold his soul to the devil for his thuggish good looks and unparalleled scoring ability. Shortly after the transaction was finalized, A.I. crossed the devil up, broke his ankles and took his soul back. The devil, who appreciates irony, couldn't stay mad and admitted he should have seen it coming. They now play poker every second Wednesday of the month. Thank you for being the one voice of sanity among an ocean of stupidity.

City: Palm Beach, Fla.
Name: Jonah
There's a meter for crunch-time performance in the NBA you haven't coined yet: "the biggest balls in the building." Whoever has 'em wins. That's what championship players have. That's how they take over games in crucial moments when other players are too afraid to take a shot and even the fans are too scared to watch. Jordan, Bird, Magic, Kobe, Vince, Wade and Iverson -- they all top the "biggest balls in the building" meter. Pundits are neglecting that Iverson can and will take over meaningful games in a positive way unlike all but three other active players in the league.

City: Philadelphia
Name: Neil K.
Are you TRYING, with that column, to make the entire city commit suicide? Iverson, while a flawed figure, is the most exciting, hard-working professional athlete this city has seen in the past decade. Bar none. Instead of finishing your column, I'm going to go find the video of Iverson stepping over Tyronn Lue in Game 1 of the 2001 Finals and dream of what might have been.

City: Scranton, Pa.
Name: Mike S.
I came on here to write you about the Iverson departure, but I just can't. I can't put into words how much it sucks watching the process of dealing away my second favorite sports figure of all time (Mike Schmidt was first). It's just impossible. I'll just say I don't know if a sports moment has ever made me feel as good as Iverson stepping over Tyronn Lue in the 2001 Finals. Good luck, Allen.

City: Fort Washington, Pa.
Name: Tom S
I'm a 36-year-old, lifetime Philly sports fan, and follow the Flyers, Phillies, and Eagles much more closely than the Sixers. But Allen Iverson is the one athlete in this town in my lifetime that you GENUINELY APPRECIATED the good fortune of being able to watch him play the game. I hate to describe anyone this way who doesn't put his life on the line in his occupation, but Iverson is the most COURAGEOUS athlete I have ever seen. Sixers fans don't need to wait for him to excel elsewhere to be outraged at his departure. Just wait until he plays his first game in Philly for his new team -- the applause will be deafening.

City: New York
Name: Mike A.
For years, I absolutely hated A.I. and everything he represented. Then, as he continued taking beatings and putting up otherworldly numbers while playing for crappy Sixers teams, I began to respect him. That all changed over the past four years. He was the only player who looked like he gave a crap in the 2004 Olympics for Team USA. Then, this past summer, when Kobe was getting knee surgery right before the World Championships, and Ray Allen/Tim Duncan/etc. were complaining about being tired and needing to take the summer off, Iverson was legitimately pissed that he wasn't invited to play. Here you have a bunch of prissy athletes who need a few months off, and the most fierce competitor of them all was absolutely dying to play for his nation. No matter what happens from here on out, I will love Iverson because of that commitment.

City: Boston
Name: J
A.I. is a warrior. Even when you knew the game was over, he would keep playing harder than anyone I've ever seen. He gave Philly fans everything, and we loved him. How was he rewarded? By being surrounded by incompetence. I'm surprised he lasted this long. As much as I understand why he needs to leave the Sixers, I am almost depressed that we are having the heart and soul of our city's sports teams ripped away from us for, given the sheer idiocy of Billy King, what I am sure will be about three cents on the dollar. Thank you for finally writing something other than the "he's selfish and his career will be over soon" piece that I have become used to seeing. City: Philadelphia
Name: Ben
Here's the thing you left out about Philly fans and Iverson. I've been to a couple games since all the trade talk has happened and most people are saying the same thing. We want him to go to Minnesota or the Clippers, somewhere that he can compete for a championship and we can still root for him. I think that's the underestimated thing here ... everyone is still going to root for him. Iverson is a gritty Philly athlete. He is Rocky on the basketball court and deserves a shot at a title.

City: Drexel Hill, Pa.
Name: Rob
Iverson really can't be appreciated until he joins "your" team and you get a chance to watch him night in and night out. On the court he is flat out everything you can ask for from a pro athlete in sports. By the way check, through the archives and see if he has ever, ever said one bad thing about the long line of stiffs he has played with. You won't find it. He always takes time to credit his teammates, even when they stink and he carries them (just wait till the postgame comments after his next 45-50 point performance and count the times he credits other guys.) This is an overlooked aspect of his personality. I hate to see him go.

City: Philadelphia
Name: Sean C.
The guy is too good to waste the rest of his career here. He gave us one unforgettable run (I've never seen a team get such a truly heartfelt ovation at the end of losing a series, and you can credit that to him and him alone) and sacrificed himself every day for this team and city, and everyday he was villianized by the local media and countless morons in this town. Now it's time to let him try to win somewhere else. I'm sure Billy King will manage to lower the return to 50 cents on the dollar; I don't care. Wherever A.I. goes becomes my new favorite team, even if it is the hated Boston Celtics. The Sixers deserve all the awful things that are about to happen to them from the fallout, and for the rest of the year they will be outdrawn by the circus, dirt bike racing or whatever random event occurs across the street at the old Spectrum.

City: Philadelphia
Name: RobU
You really hit the nail on the head with him and how the talking heads have blown the practice and ball-hogging issues out of proportion. I literally can't count the number of times that Iverson drove the lane, drew three defenders and kicked the ball to a wide open Eric Snow, George Lynch, Kevin Ollie, Raja Bell (before he learned how to shoot), Bruce Bowen (ditto), Rodney Buford, Monty Williams, John Salmons or Greg Buckner and watched them clank a jumper. Iverson is no Steve Nash but if he played with a backcourt mate who could shoot, he'd have averaged 10 assists a game his whole career. I'm going to be sick watching him in another uniform. We're hell bent on trading Allen Iverson and our starting point guard is Kevin Ollie. It's a travesty.

City: Philadelphia
Name: Jeff B.
I think he has been underappreciated, even in Philly, for years now. He long has been my favorite athlete, and truthfully is the No. 1 sports icon that I identify with as a 20-something who grew up around Philadelphia. The dread I am feeling from this seemingly inevitable trade is unfathomable. I can't even put it into words. I've long held disdain for Billy King, but this might be the last straw -- I think that I'm going to buy an A.I. jersey for whatever team he goes to and end my once-fanatical devotion to the Sixers forever.

City: Trenton, N.J.
Name: Brian
As a Philly fan to the core, it's good to see that someone with influence has finally told the true Allen Iverson story. Reading the papers, listening to the radio, and watching TV (with the exception of last night's "NBA Fast Break") has angered me to no end. No one seems to have been watching the past 10 years.

City: New York
Name: Brad
I've been so perplexed and generally aghast at the general tone of a lot of the Iverson articles being written right now. I've even wasted time writing back to the respective authors trying to articulate exactly what you just did. This guy is a cancer? He can't win on a contender?? Where is this coming from? I am a heartbroken Philly fan, but the Sixers honestly do not deserve him anymore. He has given me so many incredible memories and I can't believe it's been 11 years so fast. It was breathtaking. And you know what? I'm excited to see him on another team. And I hope its the Clips. That would be tremendous fun. And it would be so satisfying to see them blitz to the NBA Finals on the back of A.I.'s juvenation.

City: Skippack, Pa.
Name: Susan K.
I'm a 41-year-old, stay-at-home mother that reads your columns religiously. I grew up with three brothers outside of Pittsburgh. I am a huge sports fan, of some sports more than others ... love football and college basketball the most. I've never really been into pro basketball that much but I do watch it from time to time and never pass up an opportunity to go see a Sixers game when the situation arises. I just wanted to pass along a sincere thank you for a very accurate and heartfelt portrayal of Allen Iverson. Do I have some problems with Iverson personally? Yes. Do I ever question is heart? NEVER. I always tell people that if you have the chance to see him play in person, don't miss it! It's worth every penny. Philly always overexaggerates everything in the media ... sometimes with good reason, other times not. T.O. deserves every bad word ever written about him here. He throws everyone under the bus except himself when he "underperforms." I know A.I. has made comments from time to time, but nothing of any magnitude. I hope that wherever A.I. ends up, he's more appreciated than he is here. It saddens me that they never gave him a supporting cast. I will always be rooting for A.I. and hope that he gets a better shake than he did here.

City: Philadelphia
Name: Jason
OK, I was actually feeling good that the Sixers had finally decided to move on and rebuild, and was buying into the anti-A.I. prop (and believe me, after 10 years, he is a serious pain in the rear). But now reading your Iverson article, I feel like I want to go jump off the Ben Franklin Bridge. I was literally tearing up by the end of that article. I love that friggin' guy. His attitude, his street cred, his absolute hustle, the tats, watching him create total havoc on the court (which is one the best experiences in sports in person). He was perfect for Philly. That 2000-01 season, he united this city like few times I had seen before; it was awesome. Everyone had Sixer flags on their cars, and that is saying something in a town where the Eagles basically rule the roost.

City: Philadelphia
Name: Mark N.
There's no way you could understand what it means to me to have somebody else saying these things about Iverson; somebody who other people are going to read. It's gotten to the point where I can't turn on the TV or the radio or read the paper anymore, because it honestly hurts. I've been trying to get to MLB Rumor Central without visiting the front page for a week now. It's like I've been living in the Twilight Zone. Last night I made the mistake of stopping for a second while flipping channels, and the ESPN guys were talking about how A.I. was going to have to adjust to being a third option. Excuse me? EXCUSE me? Thirty-plus points, seven-plus assists, and we're worried about whether or not he's going to accept a role as a third option? What team's going to trade for him, the NBA Live All-1990s team? It's like, well, he's getting traded, and they don't trade Hall of Famers for no reason, right? There must be something to it; they wouldn't just trade a guy like that just because they backed themselves off a cliff. Well, no, the fact is that one of the 10 best guards of all time, still in the tail end of his prime, is actually on the trading block for the first buyer to offer a salvageable young player, a pick and a salary, because his team quit on him. THAT'S your story. Not that "the bad's starting to outweigh the good," like so many of these trend-following tail waggers are reporting, but that, through a constant blitzkrieg of sheer ineptitude, arrogance and cronyism, this organization finally made the most fiercely loyal player in the NBA give in. They broke him, finally, and as a special parting gift the entire sports media, including those in this city who have no excuse not to know better, is spitting on him on the way out, because a picture of a scowling Iverson talking back to a ref makes for better headlines, and probably because he wasn't nice to them in the locker room. Cowards. Congratulations, enjoy the "Andre Iguodala refuses to shoot" show. That'll sell some papers.

For 11 years, I could turn on the TV during the winter and watch Iverson doing things nobody else does -- doing them 20-30 times a game, every game. Everything I could possibly want in a star player, he was. What do you want from a franchise guy? You want to be entertained, obviously, and A.I. is and was the most electrifying athlete I've ever seen. He's like Michael Vick, only if Michael Vick ran the ball 35 times a game, returned punts and played corner, too. Oh, and was the league MVP.

They should be erecting statues, they should be taking out ads in the paper saying, "Thank you, Allen, sorry we failed you." They should retire his number right this second. Instead, they're going to circle the wagons, whisper about how unprofessional he is, make him look like he's the jerk holding things up because he doesn't want to go to Charlotte! And they're getting away with it, because the wags are buying it. So, thanks for not buying it.

City: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Name: Chris A.
I have spent the past week wondering why I didn't go to more games. Embrace him when I had him. I mean, this is the guy that even made my girlfriend love basketball -- or at least pretend to while she really just loved A.I. I can't blame her. I mean I am 31 years old and still buy his crappy Reeboks for pick-up basketball like I was in the sixth grade. His photo shares a two-sided frame with my nephews. He made me miss Doc. Made me forget Chuck. And now, now I have to watch him leave as my loyalty to the worst team in the NBA tries to remain intact. I live in N.Y. now. I have for eight years. I never miss a Knicks/Philly game at the Garden. This year my tickets are already purchased for Jan 10. The Answer will likely be long gone by then. Even if he is still around, he won't be there. And frankly, neither will I.

City: Pittsburgh
Name: Mike
I'm a Philly transplant, I'm 22 and I've bled Philly sports my entire life. Living in Pittsburgh now, I don't even follow the NBA as much anymore with no team here, but I can't help myself from checking every hour to see if the Sixers have moved Iverson yet. It's really making me sick. NO ONE in my lifetime has owned that city like Iverson. Not Schmidt, not McNabb, no one. You have to appreciate the irony of all this stupid talk right now about Rocky embodying Philly, when they're equally quick to bash A.I., who's done it for real. No one has ever tried harder, no one has ever given more of himself to try to succeed, and the franchise he breathed life into stabbed him in the back. They took Larry Brown's side in every situation between them (and he's ALWAYS a class act, as we've all seen), replaced him with a revolving door of joke coaches, surrounded him with a bunch of big money stiffs (Kenny Thomas, Allan Henderson, Greg Buckner -- Greg Buckner!), and never hesitated to throw the devil horns on him when he wondered out loud exactly what the hell was going on. Five years removed from a conference title, the entire organization is a joke. And it starts at the top. Mark my words: When Iverson lights up the Sixers for 55 in his first game back in Philly, the crowd will eat it up, while they chant for Billy King's head, and deservedly so. Talk about your Vengeance Scale. And that should tell you all you need to know about how special he is. There will never, ever be another Allen Iverson, yet somehow, the Sixers are shipping him out of town. I need to go throw up.

City: Philadelphia
Name: Pat
Being from Philly, this is the biggest tragedy in my 27 years. I've seen him countless times live and almost every game of his entire career on TV. This guy is the single greatest athlete I've ever seen ... still. He has at least three plays a game that make you laugh. Laugh the same way as when you or one of your buddies nails a full-court shot fooling around. No other athlete has ever made me laugh before. He is pure joy to watch. This is so damn sad for us.

City: Edison, N.J.
Name: Mike P.
Iverson even brings that presence you speak of with him to the blackjack table. Stroll into the Borgata in Atlantic City on a Friday or Saturday night about 1 a.m. and you'll undoubtedly see him sitting at a $50 table (reasonable) with his full entourage around. It's intimidating as hell, but once you actually get to the table and sit with him, he's the nicest guy you could imagine. The dichotomy of this guy rivals Vic Mackey on "The Shield."

City: Somerville, Mass.
Name: Alex
This is my favorite Iverson story: At one point in either 2001 or 2002, Larry Brown was fed up with team play and forced all the players to run a mile. Iverson dusted everyone and ran 4:45. Aaron McKie was the next closest in something like 5:35. Now I'm 21 now and I've run track and cross country all through high school and college. A 4:45 is no joke. Especially for someone who doesn't train specifically to be a distance runner. Iverson is a basketball player and yet without batting an eye, he just stepped out there and dropped a terrific time. Here's Larry Brown thinking he'll punish the team for not hustling and Iverson just mans up and makes Brown wonder if he has anything he can throw at this guy that could phase him.

Philadelphia loves Iverson because he is the personification of Rocky (even though he's immeasurably better at his own sport than Rocky was at boxing). One of my favorite commercials ever was a Reebok commercial that pointed out all the injuries the guy has suffered (body part by body part) and ended with him stepping out onto the court. He will throw that 5-foot-11 frame all over the court. You know, as a fan, that despite all his flaws, he is going to give all he has to help the team win. You can almost imagine him sitting there during a big game with his eye swollen over saying, "Cut me, Mick." I honestly believe there isn't a more passionate competitor in all of sports. Yeah, I was pissed when he started demeaning "practice." Who wouldn't be? But so what? I would give him off from every single practice if it meant he would score 45 a night and be the consummate team leader that could take my team to the championship. Listening to news come out of Philadelphia like "The Sixers have removed Iverson from their highlight packages" and whatnot makes me sick to my stomach. This is like the Bulls trying to trade MJ after 1996 and trying to remove his highlights from reels.

I know this e-mail is rambling, but I'll leave you with this: I've watched Philadelphia lose Schilling, Rolen, Lindros, Forsberg and Barkley. But none of them will sting more than watching the city trade away one of the top-five athletes ever to play in here. As fans, we've been like dead men walking for a year waiting to see this thing. I've actually paid money to watch this pitiful Sixers team lose here in Boston in the last year just so I could see Iverson in my team's uniform. His trade day was in the making for about four years, but I don't think it will hit anybody until we see him in another uniform. What I'm trying to say is I can't put "giving up Iverson" and "successful trade" in the same sentence. This is why Philadelphia fans continually lose.

City: Washington
Name: Stephen S.
Thanks for the column on Iverson. I've always had a problem with older columnists that can't seem to get past the tattoos to recognize the on-court brilliance. Iverson is like Alexander the Great: dominating on sheer force of will. Here's what I believe sets him apart:

1. He makes the best natural athletes in the world look slow.

2. If he plays 42 minutes in a game, he complains about the six minutes on the bench. He simply loves the game of basketball more than any other player in the league.

City: Philadelphia
Name: Justin C.
Despite his numerous transgressions, he really was a delight to see in person. I'll never forget the 58 he dropped on Houston one frigid night, back in January 2002. I was fortunate enough to be there, and I still have the ticket stub. I've only kept three stubs in my entire life and that's one of them. Now I think I'll go slit my wrists.

City: Milwaukee
Name: Eric S.
A friend of mine has a dad with season tickets for the Bucks. He also gets courtside seats once or twice a year through his company. So when those games overlap, he throws his son and me a bone and lets us sit courtside for a quarter while he and his wife go up to the nosebleeds. I remember it like it was yesterday: Wednesday night, Bucks-Sixers, random mid-season game, and I got to see A.I. up close and personal for an entire quarter. Coming into this game I did not like or respect Allen Iverson. I though of him like many others did, a cocky punk who shoots too much. Seeing him play that close changed my entire opinion of him and I probably only saw him play eight minutes of basketball. It was just the way he drove to the hoop. The respect he commanded from his teammates. The intensity he brought to the game. The beating he took. I mean these guys were fouling him. I almost felt bad for the guy. TV doesn't adequately portray how physical basketball is in the lane. I was speechless after that quarter. That night changed my entire opinion of him. All I could talk about the rest of the game was A.I., and how much I respected him.

City: Chicago
Name: Mike M.
Watching him carry himself on the court is like watching an old Marlon Brando movie. They may be surrounded by guys twice as big, but there is never a doubt who owns the room. You don't even have to know who they are to recognize this.

Name: Chuck
For the past three days I have had to hold myself back from smashing my monitor over my head as I read column after column written by Iverson haters. Words like cancer, selfish, and practice (they were talking about practice!) were the most common themes of these quasi-sportswriters. Have these people ever watched Allen Iverson? There is just one angle that you didn't cover. Sports are, when it comes right down to it, entertainment. Has there ever, and I mean ever, been a more entertaining athlete to watch play their game? Win or lose, having a good game or a bad one, Iverson always brings it, is always full throttle and is the most entertaining athlete I have ever seen. Jordan made it look too easy. Give me 5-foot-11 driving the lane any day.

City: Philadelphia
Name: Justin H.
Iverson's career has become the perfect metaphor to describe the Philadelphia fan experience. Both parts of this experience are uniquely distinct, yet strangely related. The first part can be easily summed up as the "Rocky Complex." Philly has an unhealthy obsession with underdogs. That's why we notoriously kill underperforming superstars (i.e., Burrell, Webber and Lindros), but will always love guys that care as much as we do (i.e., Dykstra, Iverson and Clarke). This part of the Philly experience is illustrated by the first half of Iverson's career, culminating in the 2001 Finals that saw Iverson's scrappy Sixers succumb, after a brilliant run, to a much more talented Lakers squad. The Lakers were the Apollo Creed to the Sixers' Rocky. The second part of the Philly fan experience is obvious. Regardless of what good things are going on, we are certain disaster lurks around the corner. We expect terrible things, and terrible things usually find us. The second half of Iverson's prime years here was sabotaged by a series of bad trades, worse signings and teammates that aged prematurely. No teams illustrated these two aspects more than the 2001 Sixers and the 1993 Phillies. And that is why, despite never winning anything, they will always remain, arguably, the two most beloved teams in the history of the city.

Iverson is never going to win here. And that is why Philadelphia overwhelmingly wants him to be sent to a contender. We need him to win. We need to see it. Because maybe if he wins, so can we.

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His book "Now I Can Die In Peace" is available in paperback.