Allen Iverson — the first and last relevant hip-hop athlete.
According to Stephen A. Smith’s NBA sources, Iverson “will either drink himself into oblivion or gamble his life away” after his recent divorce with a wife about whom Iverson once said, “I’d die for her ... I’d die without her.”
The near-overnight deterioration of Iverson is like that of a rock star.
Of course, it’s a great story.
He’s an artist — literally. Dude can sketch, like really well.
It’s no coincidence. It perhaps gives perspective to his court brilliance.
If you never saw him play, that’s sad.
His imagination of movement within the 4,700 square feet of hardwood transcended the game. And the way it was done below the rim was dissimilar to the acrobatics of Michael Jordan, David Thompson and Julius Erving.
He was also a chameleon.
Behind the fluorescing exterior was camouflaged a gratuitous, self-serving style. And thus, he represented one of the many paradoxes that leave a confusing legacy — one that should beget self-reflection for basketball fans and beyond.
Never has a player his size carried his team further, but never has one man hindered more the synergistic potential of the five-man game.
Never has a player more important, as has been purported throughout his career, put his commitment to the team in question by partying more. But never has a player sacrificed his body by playing through injury or played harder. Iverson’s effort and pain-threshold defied belief, as did the legends of his no-sleep, hung-over, 40-point performances.
Iverson entered the league in an era when Jordan was playing and consequently distracting middle-America from thug ball — used by Pat Riley, taken from Chuck Daly and imitated by other Eastern Conference teams looking to muck things up and even the odds.
Iverson came from the streets and made headlines before he was in college for his alleged participation in a “basketbrawl.”
Under John Thompson, Georgetown was a symbol of subculture resistance for black youths across the country.
Iverson was at the heart of it.
Later, he introduced white American basketball lovers to cornrows, crossovers and candor.
While both thug ball and Iverson were raw in their explicitness, only one changed the demographics of the game.
Under the guise of a gladiator code, many Americans could accept the image of obscene intimidation used by the likes of Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason.
They were turned off by Iverson’s image, and his tattoos soon became an equivocation of the thug moniker used frequently with oft-racist undertones about NBA players.
Jordan’s individual talents singlehandedly changed the way the NBA was marketed, and as a result, played and officiated.
Thug ball, thankfully, died a quick death shortly after Jordan’s second retirement.
Jordan inspired Iverson’s individual-centered game, and while it was an outlying offshoot of it, the “Answer” represented its continuation.
Jordan, like Tiger Woods (how’d that work out?), hid behind a commercial persona for the entirety of his playing career.
The common fan was repulsed when Jordan revealed his true personality during his Hall of Fame speech, though most, had they accepted the books written about him, should have known better.
Both were competitive addicts and heavy drinkers — at the least.
By comparison, Iverson is a saint — but Jordan, a country-club man, will continue to be revered.
Iverson put his complexities out in the open while Jordan hid his.
On the whole, middle America, perhaps fearful, chose to form their opinions of Iverson from superficial fragments and sound bites (Practice?).
They chose not to think.
Iverson was hip-hop before it was commercialized and watered-down — when it meant something.
Reach Nick at email@example.com