Allen Iverson retires as a broken man — unable to finish his career on his once-unwavering feet, unable to attract any positive attention from NBA teams for one last shot, relegated to making appearances at 76ers games to feel the roar of the crowd that was once commonplace.
Iverson never accepted that he had lost a step, was no longer an effective scorer, and was no longer an All-Star-caliber player. One of the greatest attributes of the greatest players is realizing when they are no longer great.
Iverson was never able to make that admission. Beginning with his trade to Denver, and then Detroit, Memphis, and that last painful stop in Philadelphia, Iverson was trying to prove the impossible to those who knew better.
So he leaves the game as a cautionary tale. But in many aspects, especially advancing the cultural expression of the NBA, he never got full credit. He led the tattoo movement. When his contemporaries donned body art on shoulders or chests, Iverson decorated his whole body with ink, forcing a conservative NBA public to accept his appearance. A decade and a half later, tattoos are commonplace. LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony wear ink from their arms to pinkie fingers without a peep from endorsers.
Thank Iverson for that.
What Iverson did, much to the chagrin of the league, was force those quick to judge him to accept his bravado and expression. He scared those old-schoolers who were accustomed to NBA good guys such as Julius Erving and David Robinson. He was the first to make the connection — a bond that is currently brimming — between NBA and hip-hop. The David Stern dress code implemented in 2005 was a direct result of Iverson’s influence. We loved his game. We loved his passion and refusal to relent despite playing for hardly elite teams in Philadelphia.
We loved his crossover. We loved his teardrop and we loved his fearlessness in the paint. But that unrelenting style likely took years off his career. And, unfortunately, his decline occurred quickly. In 2007-08, he played a full 82 games for the Nuggets and averaged 26.4 points, his 10th consecutive season of averaging at least 26 points. He was 32 years old and there was no hint of slippage.
But a troubled stint with the Pistons — a trade that ripped the fabric off that franchise because it cost Detroit Chauncey Billups — was a sign of disheartening things to come. He played merely three games with the Grizzlies, and then had a 25-game return to Philadelphia that ended when he left the team because of personal issues and never returned.
His post-career has been marred by failed comebacks and financial problems. The NBA is becoming a more unforgiving league in terms of reputations. Kenyon Martin waited months for a chance last season before signing with the Knicks because he was tabbed a cancer the previous season with the Clippers.
Teams don’t want aging headcases. They don’t want declining divas. Iverson fit that description to a tee, and his stubbornness, considered such a strength during his prime, had turned into selfishness. Near the end, Iverson said he was willing to come off the bench. He said he was willing to take a lesser role, but by that time his reputation had been cemented. It wasn’t worth the risk.
So 3½ years following his final NBA game, Iverson finally decided to end the waiting game.
He should be remembered as an all-time great. Three years from now, we’ll be driving to Springfield to watch his induction into the Naismith Hall of Fame. He was a pioneer, ahead of his time for his game and expression. Iverson was a complex player, undefined by a position, but as his numbers piled up and the wins didn’t, the perceptions about his selfishness grew exponentially.
There is a recipe for growing old successfully in this league. You work. You stay in premium shape. You mentor and you avoid delusions of grandeur. Iverson likely wasn’t capable of carrying out those tasks, and while he tried to convince anyone who listened that he had been humbled, visions of Iverson attempting to snatch away shots and attention from younger, more worthy players remained in the thoughts of NBA executives.
Recent history doesn’t view Iverson fondly, but long-term history should. Eventually, if he can get his financial life in order and determine a post-career plan, he could become a coach and pass on his wisdom. It is possible he can escape from his current spiral and become a positive role model. It’s possible that Iverson will inspire in his Hall of Fame speech in 2016.
His mistakes were common. Confidence transformed into arrogance and conceit. By the time he was able to corral those traits, it was too late. But it was a good run for “The Answer,” one that will be viewed more favorably as years pass and his impact is truly appreciated.
A NEW START
Brooks ready to make mark
MarShon Brooks appears at home at the Celtics’ Waltham training facility. After two turbulent seasons with the Brooklyn Nets that saw him play, not play, and then thrust back into playing time. After being the prized player going to the Celtics in the Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce trade, Brooks is trying to gain a comfort level in the NBA for the first time.
“It’s the same mentality, I just want to try to prove myself,” he said. “Prove myself on both sides, show I can play on both sides of the court, score when I get the opportunity and just try to turn heads.”
Brooks averaged 12.6 points per game in a breakout rookie season for the struggling Nets two years ago, but gained the reputation of ignoring defensive assignments, irking coach Avery Johnson. After starting 47 of 56 games as a rookie, Brooks was relegated to the bench last season with the arrival of Joe Johnson. Brooks spent 71 games as a reserve, averaging just 12.5 minutes compared with 29.4 in his first season. His average dipped to 5.4 points and he scored just 8 points in the seven-game playoff loss to the Bulls.
“Brooklyn had a lot of scorers,” he said. “On [the Celtics], we’ve got a lot of scorers as well, but I feel like I can be one of the guys who can be free off the dribble and just try to make some things happen. I just have to try to prove I can do more than score. Get others involved as well and defend on the other end. It’s a great challenge and that’s what the NBA is all about.”
His first two years were difficult because Brooks established perhaps an unfair reputation of being strictly a scorer. Avery Johnson was attempting to change the culture before getting fired, but matters didn’t improve under P.J. Carlesimo. Brooks played 20 or more minutes in a game just 14 times in 73 contests.
“It was difficult last year,” he said. “Just not knowing when you’re going into the game. Play two games and not play the next two games. Have a good game, not play after that. It was difficult. But I think it made me stronger, man. I watched Joe Johnson real closely and got a chance to practice against him, so I think I’m ready to play.”
McCarty has plenty to offer
Former Celtic Walter McCarty has returned to Boston as an assistant coach, taking his experience from working with Frank Vogel in Indiana and Rick Pitino at Louisville to become perhaps one of the more important coaches on the staff. McCarty could be that ear the players bend, especially Rajon Rondo, who may have been the most affected by the team’s offseason changes.
“When the opportunity arose, we had a lot of conversations and it led to this, so I am excited,” said McCarty, who played 7½ seasons with the Celtics. “I’ve always been asked if I would get back into coaching and I always said it would have to be the right situation, and it couldn’t get any better than this. I think it was an awesome opportunity and it made perfect sense.”
McCarty said his relationship with Rondo was not a major factor in getting the job.
“I think my background with the Celtics and my relationship with the organization has a lot to do with it,” he said. “With Rondo, I think very little. I know Rondo, obviously, but I don’t think that had much to do with it. It was more of my experience as a player and a coach.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens filled his staff with more college coaches save veteran assistant Ron Adams, who did not play in the NBA. McCarty is the most notable name on the staff and just a year older than Ray Allen. He believes he can establish bonds with the current players.
“I think I have a lot to offer; I went out and I played in this league,” McCarty said.
“I know what the wear and tear is, I know when guys are tired, long road trips, I know how they are going to feel. So taking that into consideration, I’ll be able to weigh it a little bit better with [Stevens] and some things he may not be aware of.”
McCarty met Stevens five years ago at a LeBron James camp for high school and college prospects. The then-Butler coach approached Pitino and his staff, who were sitting in the bleachers, about scheduling a game with Louisville. That was just an example of Stevens’s brashness.
“He’s always been a brilliant mind, and the best thing I love about him is he’s humble,” McCarty said. “He wants to continue to learn every day. He wants to learn and make sure everybody’s comfortable with everything we have going on. He’s a great mind and a wealth of knowledge.”
McCarty said his three years with Pitino were invaluable.
“Working for Rick Pitino taught me a lot and it really prepared me for how to prepare for opponents,” he said. “How to scout games and how to teach and develop players and how to speak and communicate with players. Without the education of Rick Pitino, this would have been a tough gig.”
The Grizzlies’ trading of Tony Wroten to the 76ers was an indication that they gave up on their young guard in just one year. Wroten was the 25th overall pick in 2012 out of the University of Washington. He left school too early and wasn’t prepared for the NBA, and a rough summer league last month didn’t help his stock with the new Memphis administration. The fact the Grizzlies dealt Wroten for a conditional second-round pick exemplifies the club’s desire to clear roster space. The signing of Mike Miller, who was amnestied by the Heat in July, also cut into Wroten’s chances . . . Former Notre Dame High School (Fitchburg) product Will Blalock, who has been close to sticking with an NBA club in the past, is working out at the Celtics’ practice facility and hoping for a training camp invite. Blalock played for the Reno Bighorns of the NBADL last season . . . Former Celtic Leandro Barbosa, who blew out his left knee last February at Charlotte, said on his Twitter page that he has participated in basketball activities and came out healthy. Barbosa is still a solid commodity in the league and could be a key free agent addition at midseason if he proves healthy. One of Barbosa’s best assets was speed . . . The Clippers are still trying to determine whether to re-sign free agent forward Lamar Odom, who averaged just 4 points per game last season after a nightmarish season with the Mavericks. Also on the market is veteran forward Antawn Jamison, who played fairly well last season with the Lakers. There are a load of intriguing free agents with baggage, such as James Johnson, Tracy McGrady, Tyrus Thomas, Dahntay Jones, Ivan Johnson, Daniel Gibson, Drew Gooden, and A.J. Price. August is a difficult time for lower-tier free agents because teams are still trying to figure out roster space and flexibility. Also on the market is former Celtic Chris Wilcox, who said he would like to return to Boston, but that’s highly unlikely with the new regime. Wilcox said that recovering from aorta surgery affected him last season and he promised to be in better shape this season . . . Larry Sanders has developed into standout defensive player and agreed to a five-year extension with the Bucks, a sign Milwaukee is investing in its younger players after it moved Brandon Jennings to Detroit for Brandon Knight.
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ gwashNBAGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.