THIS IS NO TIME FOR PICTURES
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.