Even though I haven’t written anything of substance here at FreeDarko for well over 6 months now (for those of you that reside outside the semi-secret group of semi-frequent posters, I officially resigned from my writing duties at FD because I deemed myself too lazy to contribute to this site at a rate I found acceptable), given my unrequited asexual love affair with Allen Iverson, I feel compelled to sit down and spill some ink about the recent trade and last night’s Nuggets-Sixers calamity.

Let me start by saying the following: last night’s Nuggets-Sixers game was one of the most atrocious displays of basketball I’ve seen in quite some time. As one would expect from every NBA game, yes, there were moments of both brilliance and ugliness, but the bright moments were far outweighed by the preponderance of ill-advised jump shots that violently clanged off the rim (that is, if the shots had the good fortune of actually hitting the rim), passes that flailed helplessly through passing lanes only to eventually hit unsuspecting crowd members right in their chest, and a basic unsettling feeling that ran the course of the game, all the way up to Iverson’s ejection late in the 4th quarter.

The game was hard for me to watch, both on an emotional level (AI in a Nuggets jersey looks so, so wrong) and a technical level. For one, while it’s obviously a trite and clichéd analogy, seeing AI on the floor playing for “the other” team was like seeing your ex with his or her new beau for the first time. It tugs at your heart in ways you don’t expect nor particularly desire and sort’ve feels like someone accidentally dropped a bowling ball on your belly. Additionally, of course, no matter how prepared you think you are for the ex encounter—and, unfortunately, even if you think you’re completely “over it”—there’s still an undeniable emotional response when you see that ex with the new person.

This was my feeling for the first two minutes or so. It didn’t completely leave me for the course of the game.

Likewise, Iverson was talking trash before the game, threw some oral jabs at the Sixers bench several times during the game, and even took several more shots at Cheeks and King after the game. Repeatedly stating how happy he is in his new situation in Denver while simultaneously taking cheap shots at folks in the Sixers front offices (no matter how justified which I, for one, most certainly think they are), I’m not left with the feeling that Iverson is really as happy to have left Philadelphia as he repeatedly claims to be. In the same vein, none of this suggests to me that he’s “over it.” Perhaps he shouldn’t be “over it” yet. It is quite soon after the break-up after all. But still, the point remains, this trade has shaken the man to his core. Similarly, when asked if he was nervous before the game, AI denied it, but anybody that watched the game can attest to the contrary: he certainly looked out of sorts out there and while it’s somewhat intellectually lazy to assume his poor play was entirely based on the fact that he was in the presence of his old flame, I don’t think it’s imprecise.

For the first 20 minutes or so, AI looked as uncomfortable as I’ve ever seen him, tumbling recklessly down the floor, attempting ill-advised passes, and taking bad shots. Admittedly, playing this way is not necessarily unfamiliar territory for Allen, but this performance was colored with a different timbre—like the man had something to say, but was doubting whether or not he really wanted to say it while simultaneously struggling with the vocabulary to say it.

Initially, I watched last night’s game expecting Iverson to score 50 or 60 points as a final, “fuck you” closing gesture to the Sixers. It very quickly became apparent that that simply wasn’t going to happen. In fact, after the first 5 or 6 minutes, you absolutely knew it wasn’t going to happen. I even got the sense that Iverson was using some calculated restraint in NOT attempting to take the game over completely, almost as if he was alternating between two modes of thought: (a) “I’m just going to let the game come to me” mode and (b) a mode hindered by the fact that he was scared that if he actually did put up 40 or 50 or 60 points in a losing effort, that he’d inadvertently prove the Sixers right in trading him.

Basically, I’ve never seen Iverson quite so uncomfortable. He looked lost out there. Undecided. Confused. Anxious. Impatient.

He wanted so badly to prove himself this game, but simply did not know how. Score a lot? Just get a bundle of assists? Exert his will on the game? Let the game come to him?

Iverson was so cognizant of the understated consequences and implications of this insignificant out-of-conference game that he didn’t allow himself to play the uninhibited, conscious-free ball that we’ve grown accustomed to.

A man who played basketball with his soul doubted this soul the entire game. And you could see it.

Perhaps what became most clear after watching last night’s games was a very simple realization for me: initially, it was BECAUSE of his game and his uncompromising personality that I fell in love with the man, but recently, it was INSPITE OF his game and his uncompromising personality that I loved this man (and, for the record, I STILL LOVE THIS MAN). As I said way back here, AI is my fuckin’ dude and I ride for him, but although he is an absolute virtuoso with a basketball; although he is a first ballot HOFer; although he’s the best little guard ever; although he “leaves everything on the floor” and plays every game like it’s his last; although he was never surrounded with adequate players to compliment his style, and all the other clichéd hogwash we repeat ad naseum; although all these things, after watching last night’s game, it became obvious that my love for the man is a bit anachronistic (though no less real).

Not only has his cultural relevance diminished, his effect on the court has followed.

Surely he is still an incredible player to watch night in and night out, but while the man who helped usher in the “style and substance are inseparable” aesthetic that we love here at FreeDarko, last night’s game to me, was the “death” of AI’s relevance to that same narrative.

I fear that AI has “fallen off.”

And, just quickly to examine last night from the Sixers’ perspective, the Sixers won the game and thus got all the evidence (no matter the circumstantial nature of this evidence) they needed to convince themselves that they’ve made the right decision, having successfully excavated the team’s “cancer” (which, as my boy Robert astutely points out, is a metapohr reserved strictly for black athletes). The Sixers won with a style of basketball that has wiped-clean Iverson’s “me first” legacy: they willfully dished out 27 assists on 41 made field goals while the AI-led Nuggets could only muster 20 assists on their 33 field foals, with two more turnovers than assists. Surely, anyone who knows anything about basketball is quick to qualify AI’s “me first” attitude in more specific, nuanced terms than the Howard Eskins of the world would ever dare to. But, suffice it to say that the Sixers, with this admittedly insignificant win, can now collectively breathe a sigh of relief, feeling as if they’ve really taken the proverbial “step in the right direction.” Honestly, I think this win is a psychologically significant one for the faltering Sixers (dis)organization but, truth be told, I don’t really give a fuck about the mental health of the Sixers right now.



At 1/03/2007 2:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am an Allen Iverson fan. I am not a Sixer fan, but I have loved them for the last 10 years because of AI, just as I loved Georgetown for 2 years when the Answer roamed the halls there.
Sadly, I do not have league pass, so only could follow the game online last night, and I did notice something was wrong. Usually, at least ever other posession, Iverson does something positive. He either shoots, or assists. This is how it has been going with the Nuggets. Last night, you could tell he was absent. Physically, no (he still dropped 30). Mentally, yes. As you say, he didn't seem to want to takeover.
But, I want to assure you that AI has not "fallen off". Look at the team he is playing with, PLEASE. Wait til the real Nuggets hit the court. Let's reflect on that, and picture AI Melo and JR on the perimeter playing defense. As the opposition drives the lane, Camby swats the ball and the Nugs come up with it. The 3 studs fly down the court, and your surely in for a highlight score.
The Nugs are going to be compltely different when the studs get back. They're all practicing together now, so as time goes on Melo and JR will be fucking itching to get back on the court. It is going to be special. And you will see then, that AI has not fallen off. He is just holding down the fort now, in an awkward period where the trade cannot really be proved right or wrong, waiting for his running mates.

At 1/03/2007 3:04 PM, Blogger GentleWhoadie9000 said...

It's hard. Iverson is Philly (well, part of it, he ain't mummin'), but this shit was clearly not going to work out...like Gamble & Huff, Lindros & the Flyers, everybody but fuckin Fishtown ass Rocky has to part ways with Philly, no matter how synonymous they become. Philly only thrives on hate.

At 1/03/2007 3:44 PM, Blogger seezmeezy said...

billy king is still bitch for mishandling the ai trade. no matter how well things work out (beating a nuggets jv team in an insginifcant regular season game, maybe finishing around .500 in a week east) i implore every 76ers fan to remember how much more they could have got for ai before the season started.

if ai is in fact past his prime, i think that may ultimately serve the nuggets in the long run. he's obviously willing to pass the ball, wants to win over anything else, and would presumably sacrifice an ego that would otherwise push him to do more than he can in order to achieve winning.

At 1/03/2007 4:04 PM, Blogger emynd said...

I have a bad habit of not really knowing what my thesis is until after I re-read my piece for the third or fourth time. It appears to me then that my main thesis is this:

It’s not so much that AI is passed his prime. I believe that he’s playing better and better basketball as he gets older and it’s not that I expect him to single-handedly help the currently paltry Nuggets win many games. I’ve just come to realize that even though he’s still relevant to a certain extent and still playing quality basketball, that he is simply not the figure he once was—neither on the basketball court or off.

The league he has helped create has surpassed him.

It became clear to me for the first time in last night’s game. Previously, I was blinded by my love for the man.


At 1/03/2007 4:10 PM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

From the box, it doesn't look like Philly won with some sort of new-age sharing game. It just looks like Denver left Korver open too much.

I think the fans of Philly will continue to uphold AI in their hearts. You can't say he is Philly anymore than you can for a lot of figures, but he best personifies the combination of love+hate+aggression that is the way of Philly fandom.

At 1/03/2007 4:12 PM, Blogger seezmeezy said...

emynd- your rehashed thesis is a more succinct version of the first. i couldn't agree more, ai's game is has refined with age.

any thoughts on his post-game remarks about a pre-existing "personal" beef with uber-herb stevey javy?

wv evwwn: world wide opposite of owwdd

At 1/03/2007 4:38 PM, Blogger O.D.B. said...

emynd - glad you're back, even for a cameo. Your final shrug of the post is what resonates most w/ me, a non-philly guy, that is to say: does anyone give a fuck about the mental state of the '6ers? Most of us outside of Penn/NJ are convinced philly is gunning for Greg Oden and would have affirmed their identity w/ a loss last night. As it stands now, they're an angsty teenager whose parents were just divorced and their desperate for an attention-grabbing-locked-in-their-room-with-emo
stint, but even that would be too much of a leap.

Am also intrigued by your 'league surpassing AI' theory - a lot too that, makes me question my comment in Shoals AI-Silverbird post where I surmised that AI found his perfect fit in a George Karl team that was already geared to run with someone like him. The Nuggs losing doesn't necessarily contrast with that theory, as I'm basically just saying that even their second-string is more apt to AI's flow because of Karl and the Western Conference culture, but their is something about the way they lost and the way AI lost it last night that makes me think he's simply too iconoclastic for ANY system - even a non-system.

At 1/03/2007 4:43 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

not to link to my own post, but

iverson as necessary past

At 1/03/2007 4:44 PM, Anonymous ml said...

emnyd, good to see you back. what happened to yr blog?
on another AI related note, I am travelling from Australia to NY for 10 days or so near the end of the season and checked the schedule for what would be the best game in the area. My friends and I booked the last game of the year in Philly to go see Sixers Cavs.. needless to say we are gutted about AI's move, to see what would have happened on fan appreciation night this year was half the reason we were going. Now it seems inevitable that LeBron will rest and we will have to be content with Kyle Korver going for 40. give me strength!

At 1/03/2007 6:35 PM, Blogger The Assimilated Negro said...

AI is a living legend, and perhaps in more FD vernacular, a true genius. The pre-trade Slate piece on AI ultimately presented a compelling argument for genius being both a gift and a curse. Maybe AI's basketball genius is incompatible with a goal that requires the help of mere mortals. Ultimately, if true, it's certainly the stuff of greek tragedy.

But I wouldn't hang a lot on one game. I think as you mention at the end, it means more for the Sixers, who are now starless and therefore totally irrelevant. And maybe AI was caught up, or emotional, but in the end he has much larger fish to fry, which is what his rebellion was all about. So its just a little blip for him.

If you're an AI fan, you should be at the edge of your seat, because the story is just getting interesting. I don't see how this whole NBA season isn't about AI at this point. Everything else recedes to the background, his narrative encompasses so much. He's in the perfect point in his career for this sort of opportunity. He's not done, a la gary Payton last year, but has perspective. He has pieces around him. There's only one question, can AI make it happen? Is he a comedy or a tragedy?

Either way, though, he'll be one of the great stories. He should definitely be on FD's Mt. Rushmore ...

At 1/03/2007 6:50 PM, Blogger emynd said...

I didn't mean to plagairize Shoals previous post about AI. I swear.


At 1/03/2007 6:51 PM, Anonymous FW said...

Shea Hillenbrand has been called a cancer more times than I can count.

At 1/03/2007 7:02 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

it never occurred to me that my point about iverson was relevant to his current situation. i was just trying to say that i'm over him, you're suggesting that he might be sort of over himself.

At 1/03/2007 9:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think part of Iverson's "relevance" faded as we got to know him as a person (rather than as a persona) more. Anyone else remember the RBK commercial in B&W with him talking and shooting pool? Yes, it was scripted, but it was "fake but accurate" in the same way as Chuck's "I am not a role model" spots. (BTW, how tame would Chuckles look in comparison today? And he was the bad boy, pre-Sprewell...) There was simply too much erudition and self-awareness there for the "Hip-Hop for the masses" crowd to keep up, so they had to move on the newest faux-thug vessel to carry their own self-images.

vw: hhhnfow - 3-peat of Heat sweeps?


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