Is the War Over Now?
As Ziller explains, first the news came over email. As Tom succinctly put it, "no haircut could ever be more meaningful. In all of America." If I believed in titles that made sense, I'd go with "The Chop Heard 'Round the World." Nate Jones later posted photographic evidence, seen above. But before we knew exactly what was up, in those first few breathless moments of comprehension, Joey Litman and I tried to make sense of it all.
Bethlehem Shoals: Inside report: AI HAS CUT OFF HIS BRAIDS
Joey Litman: I hope he goes back to the mini-fro he had at Georgetown. There was something youthfully innocent about it, and I think it engendered optimism in me. I am also a nostalgist, though.
BS: I like that angle. Like before him being him was a burden.
JL: Exactly. Back when he was free to just play. To just be. To be a kid. His public persona, for better or worse, is kind of like a prison.
BS: There was always something defensive about the braids. Like "yeah, this is me where I feel safest. Now step the fuck back."
JL: Completely agree. And they may have allowed him to feel like he owned the way he was being portrayed. Even if it wasn't his choice, even if he didn't fully control it, choosing braids gave him at least the illusion of self-determination.
BS: Or more cynically, was like "if you're really going to fear me anyway, I'm going to drop all pretense of playing that game." Which sort of implies that Iverson was once ready to deal.
JL: I don't disagree with that, but I sometimes wonder about whether he was, or if that was just something we assumed as a result of the redemption narrative: out of jail, prodigious talent, father-figure coach who would help him see that potential and walk the righteous path. That imports a sense that he was ready, or willing, but maybe it was just easy to go along with things without any real certainty.
BS: Or, let's put it like this: He was at least somewhat humble, and realized it was a new venue, when he first hit the league. Not redemption per se, but pragmatic. Then when the backlash came, he retreated into an especially dark (yes, keep the pun) and reactionary form of Romanticism.
JL: Kind of like he threw up his hands and said "I tried to play by the rules, I tried to be nice, but fuck it. You don't seem to care, or get it, so i am just gonna do me." And oddly, doing him, rocking the braids, only reinforced what people were saying. It's like a weird Stockholm Syndrome in some way.
BS: But what about now, when everyone's saying he might fetch nothing on the open market, and has clearly receded into history as the league's major influence? Now it's just marketing, right? Was it just marketing for Melo, too?
JL: As you know (i think you know), I think Carmelo is like Common and like A-Rod--Carmelo seems like he's searching for something. I think that his period at Syracuse, when he was the man, and his talent allowed him to rule the game, was illusory. And I think his PR missteps as a pro, and the stigma that he can't win a playoff series, and the fact that his charm and thoughtfulness are often buried underneath the stereotypical trappings of someone in his position--to me, it all points to this directionless-ness. The braids were perhaps a part of cleaving to an archetypal identity that may or may not really be him, but gave him direction.
JL: Oddly, I think he's maybe coming out of it. This season feels different. I think winning at the Olympics helped him. I think doing more than only scoring has helped. He plays and comports himself with more self-possession this year.
BS: It's weird, people say he took a step back from other international competition, when he dominated. But yeah, his more focused, mature season is probably the result of the Olympics, too.
JL: That's kind of my read on it. and "mature" is a good word. I think he has grown up in some ways. Not to say a grown man, or a self-possessed man, can't have braids. But if the braids are part of a uniform, in effect, and not just a personal preference, they can mean something else. And in the league, thanks to AI, in particular, they can connote some lingering "otherness."
BS: Well, I've always thought of Melo as trying to mediate between being the NCAA champ "good son" or alt-Bron "new jack", and the really real heir to Iverson's street cred, since that's what differentiated him from Bron. Now he's proven he's still got street in him. But on some level, as a businessman—the post-Jay hustler archetype that's replaced the Scarface thing as the model of success—he's got to move on and market himself.
BS: In Iverson's case, he kind of preceded all that. For Iverson to, for lack of a better word, assimilate, doesn't have as clear a narrative to it. How does he justify dropping the ultimate symbol of his personal integrity? It really is all about not necessarily changing his image, but becoming less conspicuous. Is that a return to the beginning? Like "just let me play my game, and then sign me based on that."
JL: Like hitting the reset button. It's funny that it's so hard for him to do that. other players--players who weren't as singular, and as culturally significant--have been able to do that. But with Allen, it's like people don't even want him to.
BS: Well, Melo didn't hit reset per se. He moved on. And that's really the bottom line. At this point, can we even imagine what it means for Iverson to evolve, in terms of game, image, or meaning? Or is he at once an important piece of history and such, doomed in the present.