Quite possibly, we'll remember him as one of the great 'what if?' stories in the history of the NBA.
What if A.I. had played with better teammates in his prime? What if he was more self-aware, more team-oriented and more attentive to the little things? What if he'd stuck it out at the end of his career, playing on despite adversity?
What if, what if, what if? We'll never know.
Iverson, with his status for this season still in limbo after a failed experiment with the Memphis Grizzlies, made his retirement official on Wednesday afternoon, announcing once and for all his "plans to retire from the National Basketball Association."
It's all happening too soon. Iverson is just 34 and he's one of the best athletes the game has ever seen. He still has much to offer, both as an individual and as a team player, but it appears we'll never get to see what Iverson has left in the tank. Rather than face the indignity of playing without the constant spotlight that a superstar demands, A.I. is deciding to walk away.
For a long time, we all imagined that we'd remember Allen Iverson as
one of the all-time greats. Simply from a talent standpoint, he was
untouchable. He had the athleticism, the speed and the pure
unadulterated scoring ability to be a legend.
Instead, we'll remember him as the one that never quite put it all together.
We'll also remember him as a great player capable of accomplishing so much but always coming up a little short. We'll remember him as always a star, but rarely a winner. Iverson played in 10 consecutive All-Star Games, but only one NBA Finals. That's who he was — one of the great individual athletes the NBA has ever seen, but nothing more.
Maybe with different supporting casts around him, Iverson would have seen his career unfold differently. Even on the standout 2000-01 Sixers team that won 56 games and an Eastern Conference title, look at the players that surrounded A.I. — they were Aaron McKie, Tyrone Hill, Eric Snow and an aging Dikembe Mutumbo coming off the bench.
Individuals don't win titles, regardless of their greatness. Jordan didn't win before Pippen. Shaq didn't win before Kobe. Iverson just never found his trusty sidekick.
Even when his ego got the best of him, even when he made himself bigger than the team, even when he took so many bad shots that he just didn't stand a chance as a one-man team, one still couldn't help but cheer for Iverson.
A lot of the great winners in NBA history were players who evolved as they aged, adapting not only to the change in themselves, but to the change in the game and in their surroundings. An older Kareem Abdul-Jabbar stepped aside and let Magic Johnson carry the '80s Lakers. An aging Shaq let Dwyane Wade carry Miami to a championship. Iverson never evolved to that point.
A more mature Iverson would forget about himself and learn to become a role player on a contender — Miami, Cleveland or even Boston. He would even forget about taking the majority of shots, about racking up the minutes, about being The Answer. He would have learned to put the team first, setting out in his latter years in search of a championship. But that mature A.I. never showed up. Instead, we saw the frustrating decline of a player who could have been so much more.
Iverson wasn't the answer to anything in Denver, nor in Detroit. By the time he got to Memphis, he was hopeless. In a way, his retirement was inevitable — after all, he'd already accomplished everything he knew how to accomplish in basketball.
After 14 seasons, 10 All-Star selections, 24,000 points and $150 million, it's hard to look back and be disappointed, but Iverson is a special case. All the fame and fortune was nice, but there was another dimension of Iverson's potential that we never got to see.
And now, apparently, we never will.