Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Finally, the Answer has come back to Philadelphia.

I would have given just about anything in the world to have been there for this:



I'd argue that Iverson is the most beloved athlete in the history of Philly sports. (Dr. J is the only other guy in the discussion.) As much as any other jock who's ever been through the city, he's the embodiment of everything Philadelphians want to believe about themselves: He's great; he's troubled; he's authentic; and while ultimately successful, he's often fortune's fool.

I've defended Iverson's greatness in the past, so there's no need to recapitulate that here. He's a lock for the Hall of Fame, number 3 on the all-time scoring list, and one of the greats of the modern era. Arguments to the contrary simply aren't sustainable.

No doubt, the Answer has had problems--lots of them. But he was never your garden-variety delinquent jock. More often than not, he got into trouble trying to hold his marriage together or dealing with extended family problems. He wasn't just getting into fights at clubs or driving drunk with a trunkful of guns.

His problems were simply part of who he was, and he made no attempt to hide them, or pretend he was someone else. There were no Kobe-style image consultants trying to make him into a softdrink pitchman. He wasn't Jordan with a publicly-groomed perfect marriage and an entire clandestine operation for his girls on the side. Iverson never hid who he was. There's something touching (and maybe a little bit tragic) about a guy who isn't quite equipped to lead a normal lower-upperclass existence trying his best to figure it out on the fly and create what he thinks a normal life is supposed to be.

Like Philly itself, Iverson is a bundle of contradictions. People remember his "practice? you talking about practice?" rant--and he was a terrible worker when it came to practice. You can't be a Jordan or Bird level player without being obsessed with workouts, so Iverson's game and the franchise suffered because of his laziness. But while he was disdainful of practice, he was an absolute warrior in games. He never took a play off; never hesitated to give up his body. He never tanked games. Philly fans love Iverson because on any given night, he cared about the game more than anyone watching did. That's probably the rarest attribute in all of professional sports.

1 comment:

jsinger said...

Last,

As someone who enjoyed 6 championships with the Bulls in the 90s, I still think everything you say about "The Answer" makes sense -- it was precisely because he was such a fierce competitor on the court (if not off) that I could see in him some of the spirit of the great one. Once MJ retired (for the second time) I was hooked on the NBA so I continued to watch. I have cousins in California (from LA) so when the 76ers and LA met in the first of what I remember to be LAs three championships, I'll never forget watching that Game 1 (in LA) and it was absolutely beautiful to watch The Answer will his team to victory.

Good times.