Relocated Iverson: The Silverbird Sessions
One of the greatly underrated aspects of FreeDarko is the power of the collabo. You may only see the final product, but the process behind each post usually involves more than just the author's scalded noggin. Nowhere is this more true than when I write on something that might come up in casual conversation; about half of these come out of phone calls with the man known only as Silverbird 5000.
This post, however, is not an outpouring of affection. Instead, it's the pretext for some late thoughts on Iverson that happened now only because I hadn't talked to 5K in about a week. Once we worked through the latest run of natural disasters, talk turned to the new look (or for the moment, the no-look) Denver Nuggets. Both of us agreed that even this skeletal line-up was more fun to watch than the Sixers have been in ages, and that some pretty dim effigies had proven capable of running with The Answer. Sure, he had an off-night against NOOCH, resulting in an all-too-familair box score. But when Iverson has been on, the Nuggets' second-teamers have been right there with him.
The question, of course, was whether Iverson's changed, the change in team has been that drastic, or whether we're being treated to a first-blush illusion. Watching these Denver games, the thing I've become most aware of is how off-hand Iverson's passing is. Once the entire opposing defense has collapsed around, AI casually tosses the ball to any number of open men. They might be behind the three-point line, or under the basket, or in a position to drive; the important thing is that, with Iverson blanketed in chaotic activity, they should be able to get buckets. He doesn't set any one up, or guide them to the hoop, or even necessarily care who has the best shot. Iverson kills himself so that others might move forth simply. That's all he asks, and yet this places a tremendous burden on these teammates, who are almost dared to fuck up a no-brainer.
While Iverson might have a little exultant bounce in his game than usual, he still looks like the same player to me. Those Nuggets aren't any better than this last batch of Sixers, so the talent theorem is out the window. We're left with two options: either Denver's style of play better suits AI, or there's something psychological going on with his new teammates. SB5000 was all for the former, but I still see it boiling down to one basic truth: when the Nuggets get the ball, they quite naturally take it and score.
I am never going to believe that Iverson is the perfect teammate. For the reasons mentioned above, he makes the gift of the open look into an ironic bind. It's not a stretch to suggest that this had become part of the Sixers' team culture, transmitted from roster to roster and persisting in spite of coaching changes. By the time Iguodala came aboard, this was not only the feel of the workplace—it was embossed with the lumber of immortality. Now undoubtedly, many of you are outraged at this claim. That's why I'm going to kick it over to El Birdo's ghost, who sharply asserts that these Nuggets are just not overwhelmed the way the Sixers were. They get the ball, they're open, and they go about their business. I don't necessarily think that Iverson means to intimidate his teammates, but he certainly puts them in intimidating situations, making what should be an act of cooperation into something almost antagonistic. Neither Silverbird nor myself anticipate this being an issue with Melo or J.R., and yet Iguodala has emerged as a force when paired with the slightly more sympathetic Andre Miller.
You might have a firm desire to kill me now, but I hereby defy you to come up with a more plausible explanation. Certainly Iverson was not blessed with the strongest of companions, and yet now he thrives with far less. He demonstrated little on-court rapport with his longtime boyz, and yet overnight gets a flow going in Denver. The only possible conclusion is this: Allen Iverson has had the good fortune to come to a team that is not, has not, and may never be, his. And therein lies his greatest chance of belonging.