Q: I am a long-suffering Philadelphia sports fan. Waiting for Billy King to pull the trigger on an Iverson trade is like watching your girlfriend drink too much at a party. You KNOW she is going to eventually blow chunks. There is no doubt. It's gonna happen. And it's gonna be ugly. The real question is, where? Do you dare hold out hope that she finds her way to a toilet? Or do you brace yourself for the inevitable ride home ... where she proceeds to redecorate the interior of your car with bits of fish taco and the stench of tequila?
SG: That's been the most underrated sports subplot of the summer -- every horrified Philly fan dreading the news that Billy King gave away Iverson. It's legitimately cruel. Hasn't this city suffered enough? In last week's NBA column I suggested that Philly ban pro sports for a calendar year for everyone's safety. And normally, whenever I write something about a fan base that could be perceived as negative, the fans always fight back in droves and I'm guaranteed some hate mail (like with the LeBron thing last week). But with that comment? Not only did I get zero complaints, some Philly fans even e-mailed just to say, "Right on, the sports scene is absolutely morbid right now, never seen anything like this before" and "I majored in psych in college and am becoming convinced that Philly sports fans are suffering from collective depression, all the signs are there."
Depression is a serious illness and I would never make light of it. Obviously Philly fans aren't legitimately depressed. At the same time, couldn't there be a more harmless form of depression that's sports-related? When I was living in Boston in the late '90s and early '00s, we were absolutely battling sports depression before the Pats beat the Rams to win the Super Bowl -- it was the tail end of a titleless 15-year stretch when everything had gone wrong (Bias and Lewis, Bird's back, Neely's hip, McHale's feet, Nomar's wrist, Clemens fleeing to Canada, Parcells going to the Jets, Pitino and Duncan, etc.), and after awhile, we started EXPECTING things to go wrong. That's when you know there's a problem, when you're trapped in an ongoing state of pessimistic inadequacy and there's no way out. Hence, the depression connection.
Well, doesn't that describe Philly fans right now? Pessimistic inadequacy? After 22 years of suffering and falling just short, dealing with a relentlessly unhappy media getting everyone riled up, enduring dozens of ludicrous front-office moves, getting their hopes raised by some genuinely big-time superstars (Lindros, Iverson, McNabb, Roenick, Schilling, Cunningham) and big-time contenders (the '93 Phillies, '01 Sixers, multiple runs with the Eagles and Flyers), McNabb's bizarre collapse in the Super Bowl and the subsequent T.O. debacle seemed to push everyone over the edge ... and these fans were uber-pessimistic to begin with. Hell, in a column about the "Worst 20 Sports Fans" for my old Web site, I picked Philly fans No. 1 and braced for the deluge of hate mails that never happened. Instead, they e-mailed in just to say stuff like, "You're right. We're insane. There's something wrong with us."
And that was eight years ago! When I was signing books in Philly last December, right as the Eagles' season was going down the drain, the bitterness was almost disarming. As I wrote in my football column that week, "I couldn't believe the body language of the locals -- signing a sports book for these poor people was like signing a romance novel for Jennifer Aniston right after Brad and Angelina started dating. You can't even imagine how many people asked me, "Can you sign it? Maybe this will happen to the Eagles someday?" And that was before T.O. went to Dallas, the C-Webb trade backfired and the Mets ran away from the Phillies.
Which brings me back to my original point: On paper, Billy King can't screw up an Iverson trade because Philly fans would see right through the stereotypical three-nickels-for-a-quarter trade that never works. They're too smart for it. At the same time, he's Billy King. He's one of the worst GMs in any sport. He shouldn't have a job. And he's absolutely going to screw this up. There's no doubt. Even worse, he's dumping Iverson because he's made so many bad moves over the last five years, it's the only way to potentially improve the team -- they have no cap room and nobody else with any trade value, and he has to do SOMETHING because he's one more crummy year away from losing his job. Does that sound like a valid reason to trade a 33-point scorer for 60 cents on the dollar? I didn't think so.
If I were a diehard Philly fan, I would be doing everything possible to stop the inevitably dumb trade that's about to happen -- launching anti-King Web sites, protesting outside of radio stations, chanting Iverson's name at baseball games, you name it. To borrow Brendon's "drunk girlfriend" analogy, there's still time to throw her in a car and drive her home before she starts puking all over the place.
It hurts because it's true. All of it.
Every last word.