Allen Iverson turned 36 this week. He hasn't played a minute in the NBA in 16 months, he hasn't really been relevant for three years, and he was last seen in Turkey making a short-lived attempt at a comeback to pro basketball before a calf injury forced him to leave his club, Besiktas.
He's now back in the States, recovering and waiting to receive medical clearance to play basketball again. Believe it or not, he still wants to play in the NBA.
Given his age and everything he's been through, that might sound crazy. But…
"It's me," Iverson told the AP this week. "That's what gives me confidence. I know what I can do. Everybody in the world knows what I can do. Everybody knows what I can do on the basketball court."
Maybe so. Or at least we remember what he was able to do back in the day. It's been a full 15 years now since a young, wide-eyed Iverson came into the league, the No. 1 overall pick in one of the best draft classes ever. He was picked higher than Kobe Bryant, higher than Steve Nash, higher than Ray Allen. He was undersized and more than a little controversial, but no one could doubt his athletic talent. Allen Iverson was born to score the basketball.
He turned his potential into a Rookie of the Year (1997), an MVP (2001), 11 All-Star selections and four scoring titles. He scored 24,368 points, averaging 26.7 per game (sixth all-time, ahead of every active player except LeBron James). In one unforgettable NBA Finals, he dropped 48, 23, 35, 35 and 37 points on the Lakers. It was one of the best Finals performances ever, even though his Sixers lost in five.
If only the guy had teammates.
He's never had another star player by his side, with the exception of two years with Carmelo Anthony in Denver. And by then, it was too late.
Now, he wants back into the NBA, and he wants to play with a winner for a change. He never made a second conference final after that '01 run. He deserves better.
"Just give me a training camp," he said. "Maybe I've rubbed people the wrong way as far as saying the things I've said in my life and in my career. But if any team needs me to help try and win a championship in any capacity, I'm waiting."
You can argue that a player of Iverson's skill set — lacking size, strength or superior post moves — doesn't age well. At 36, there's no hope for him. But it's hard to completely count out a guy with the competitiveness Iverson showed every single day.
Say what you will about A.I., but he played every game like it was his last. That was his greatest strength — he never wanted to stop competing. That's why he is where he is today, fighting for another shot.
Remember that infamous news conference from after the 2002 playoffs, when Iverson barked the word "practice" something like 22-and-a-half times? There was a reason for that. He got so defensive because he didn't want anyone doubting his will to compete. He never relaxed for one second in a game. Not a game, not a game, not a game.
Iverson can't go out like this. Our last memories of his Hall of Fame-worthy career are a trade from the Nuggets, a lackluster stint in Detroit, a failed comeback with the Grizzlies, another failed comeback with the Sixers and an injury-plagued trip overseas. He's capable of more. Maybe next year he'll prove it.
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