Wednesday, December 2, 2009
This afternoon the local NBA team, the Philadelphia 76ers, signalled to their fan base what most already knew, that it is a losing organization with no future whatsoever.
They did so with the signing of former 76ers star Allen Iverson to a contract.
This signing has to rank as one of the single most cynical moves ever foisted by a professional sports organization on its fan base in the long history of this sometimes-great sports town.
Iverson is now 34 years old. That is young by normal standards, but an old man by NBA standards.
Larry Bird retired at age 35 after a couple of seasons battling injuries as mostly a shell of his former greatness. Magic Johnson was driven from the game at age 33 by a combination of his positive testing for HIV and bad knees. Michael Jordan was 36 when he walked away for the 2nd, but not final, time. His final chapter ended at age 40, after mostly limping through parts of three seasons in which he accomplished little.
The point is that the three most important, influential professional basketball players of the last three decades, all winners, were roughly Iverson's age when they were wrapping up their careers as champions. Iverson, never to be confused with a winner as a professional, is on his last legs.
So the Philadelphia 76ers have signed him for what reason? To build a champion around? To become a mentor for players like Jrue Holiday, who may actually become a legitimate part of the future for this franchise? To teach the younger players the way to win, the right way to play and practice?
Practice? We're talkin' about practice, man? Practice?
During his infamous 2002 "practice" tirade, Iverson was asked by a reporter "Is it possible that if you practiced, not you but you would make your teammates better?"
Iverson's reply: "How in the hell can I make my teammates better by practicing?" The reporter went on to clarify that perhaps it would help make them play better with him. In other words, they would play better as a team, the way that winning teams play.
To that question, one that basically was asking if Iverson understood that actually showing up and practicing with his teammates would make them all better as a team, he had this to say:
"Is my game is going to get worse? I'm asking you, is my game going to get worse? So what about my game? Is my game going to get better because other players are hurt on my team, I mean, do that hurt me? Do you think that hurts me? I'm being honest, people are hurt on my team but do that hurt me?"
Seriously. That was the thought process of a guy who was supposed to be a veteran leader at that point. And that was seven years ago.
It didn't take long for the Sixers to realize that Allen Iverson had become a cancer. He had always been selfish. Some say all the great ones are a bit selfish, they all want "the rock", need the ball in their hands at the big moments. But the man known as "A.I." wanted that ball every trip down court.
Allen Iverson led the NBA in scoring four times. Of course he did, he was taking more shots than anyone else. Iverson had skills, that much is certain.
In being fair, he was the legitimate MVP of the entire NBA for an incredible 2001 season during which he led the 76ers to the NBA Finals before losing to the Lakers. But it was a season that really should never have been. The Sixers had actually traded Iverson in the preseason to Detroit, a deal shot down because another player refused to go in the deal. They were already tired of his antics then.
Iverson and his entourage were continuously getting into trouble at clubs both locally and in Atlantic City. Assaults, gaming table theft, gun possession, drug possession. He cut a rap record in which he included profane anti-homosexual lyrics. He perpetuated everything that is on the negative side of the ledger relating to the hip-hop culture that has steered so many young black Americans into trouble.
The Sixers finally got rid of him, trading him away to Denver. The Nuggets could only bare one full season of Iverson before dealing away at the beginning of last season to the Detroit Pistons. Without A.I., the Nuggets promptly won their division and reached the Western Conference finals. The Pistons had a losing record and were swept out of the first round of the playoffs.
This is what the 76ers just signed. A selfish, ignorant, past-his-prime distraction. They did it for only one cynical reason: they stink, the fans aren't showing up, and they need to put seats in the stands. They believe that the combination of A.I.'s celebrity status, shadows of that one great 2001 season, and the simple idea of spectacle will bring enough people to the games that the losing won't hurt so much. At least not in their financial bottom line.
Meanwhile, on the court and in the locker room, the development of the Philadelphia 76ers young players will be stunted. Hopefully they will not be tainted permanently by this experience.
As Bob Ford, a writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer correctly put it, his signing has created a "..sideshow, luring in the curious and the bored and the kind of people who slow to gawk at the wrecks along the highway. He is the bearded lady, the fish boy, the bear who chugs beer from the bottle."
The Philadelphia 76ers are losers at this point in their franchise history. No, not because of their current 5-13 record that already has the team sitting nine games out in their division, just a quarter of the way into their season. That is the product of having a young team still trying to find the right mix with a relatively new GM and coach.
No, the 76ers are a loser at the organizational level for thinking that this signing of Allen Iverson is in any way a sound transaction. Anyone who pushed for this signing should stick their fingers and their thumb up in the shape of an 'L' on their forehead.