Burning the Anchor
Without delving into the delicate matter of our mystery Slate author, I want to share with you a few of my Iverson belongings. I can understand why some might find FD Iverson ambivalence almost inconceivable; in truth, there are several among our ranks who take AI to be the alph and omega of stylistic revelation. But there is an equally loud faction that sees in him something that puts our entire project at risk. I will call upon a workplace metaphor to steady my hand: a laidback office is a delicate balance, and if one employee routinely flaunts his laziness the forces that be will be forced to crack down.
So it could be said to be with AI. We've gone to great pains to point out that, in theory, FreeDarko doesn't mere mean style; as our magnum breakthrough so loudly stated, we're into competitive, functional style. There are many ways to play the game, and all solutions to the problem of basketball involve are technically their own kind of style. The more self-possessed, self-aware, and aestheticized this style is, the more it resembles what we understand as style proper. Of course, the terror enters the room when we're lumped in with the Iverson Era—even when, as we've said on numerous occasions, this blog came into being as a direct result of the 2003 Draft and the 2004-2005 Revolution.
At least to me, Iverson threatens to destroy everythng I hold dear. The Sixers didn't give him anything to work with, but Iverson's way of playing the game does seemingly preclude the presence of others. And like it or not, his style is over-aestheticized, a self-contained spiral of invention that almost snobbishly excludes other voices. Doubtlessly, this was an essential moment in NBA history, the dialectic something or other that followed the so-called Golden Age. And verily, this league is all the better for Iverson having loomed like he did. At present, however, I worry that allying one's self with Iverson threatens to taint, say, Arenas, who has tried to iron the flaws out of a Iverson-style game while retaining its sting. The Answer made him possible, but it's also important to stress how Gil has diverted from his (admittedly brilliant) example.
Politically and culturally though, I can't front on Iverson in the least. In the same way that I think Tupac's music is retarded, my mixed feelings about Iverson's play don't diminish my respect for his larger significance. In this sense, Melo's emerging legend is endlessly and unconditionally indebted to AI; on the court, Anthony never ran the risk of falling into the Iverson trap. Even when he did look like a gunner, it was a less apocalyptic kind of presence. When it comes to making a street-as-fuck background part of the basketball establishment, though, Melo wouldn't have a leg to stand on without Iverson. Iverson may have been too raw, but he also forced the world to recognize the real. Now that his mark has been made, the establishment has no choice but to let Melo be Melo, rather than try and assimilate him.
Maybe that's not such a different argument from the Iverson/Gilbert dynamic. Except there's no reason to apologize or make excuses for who Iverson is, no way that you'd say Melo has improved on that identity. In both senses, Iverson is a pioneer, but only off-the-court are his lessons lasting. To me, this is how you honor AI while acknowledging his problematics.