Where have you gone, Allen Iverson?
It's more than just a nation that turns its lonely eyes to A.I. this summer — it's an entire generation of basketball fans who came of age watching the dynamic, explosive, unstoppable, freakish athlete who turned the basketball world upside down in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
There's never been another player like Iverson, and there never will be. He was listed — generously — at 6 feet and 165 pounds, but he used his quickness and his fearlessness to barrel into opposing players that were bigger, taller and stronger than he was. Iverson was always tougher. It's how he earned 11 All-Star selections, four scoring titles, 24,000 points and $150 million. He wanted each and every basket more than anything — he sacrificed his body and his sanity to get it.
Iverson played every game as if it was his last. And yet we never wanted to think that, someday, his true last game would finally come.
Right now, as it stands, A.I.'s last game was the Sixers' blowout loss to the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on Feb. 20. Iverson played 30 minutes, spent most of the night forcing fade-away jumpers, and was helpless to stop the younger, livelier Bulls from running them into the ground. Iverson finished 5-of-13 from the floor for 13 points and the Bulls ran away with it, 112-90.
On that night, Iverson looked like a has-been who didn't know his time had come. His 35th birthday was just months away, and yet he still wanted to play like he was 25. He was too stubborn, too proud and too in love with the player he once was, to face the facts.
Iverson has now played 14 years, 914 games and 37,584 minutes in the NBA. In his prime, he was one of the most durable athletes on the planet, but that kind of mileage can take its toll on anyone. Iverson isn't the player he once was, and it's clearly been hard for him to come to grips with that.
When A.I. caught on with the Grizzlies last season, things didn't work out because he was coming off the bench and it made him antsy. He wanted more minutes, more touches and, most importantly, more respect. He was the lone 30-something playing understudy to a bunch of young kids. Something just wasn't right.
The saga continued. On Nov. 7, Iverson left the team. The following week, he was officially bought out of his contract. Around Thanksgiving, we heard rumblings of his possible retirement, only to discover shortly thereafter that Iverson was returning to his old team. He was back in Philadelphia, where it all began, agreeing to a contract on Dec. 2.
Within less than three months, he was gone again. He left Philadelphia citing family reasons, skipped out on his chance to start the All-Star Game on Feb. 14, returned for three games and was then gone for good. The Sixers moved on without him.
Then on the night of July 5 came this tweet, directly from his verified Twitter account:
"I want to return to the NBA this season, and help any team that wants me, in any capacity that they feel that I can help. I?m disappointed and I owe my fans more than what they have seen of me the last couple seasons. However, now that my family is healthy and rock solid, I can concentrate fully on doing what I do best."
If you believe everything you read on the Internet, then this is the new Iverson, refocused and recommitted to playing winning basketball. He may be 35, and he may be rusty, but if he wants to play, he'll find a way.
The superteam down in South Beach has been rumored as a possibility, but they've already piled up plenty of veterans on the cheap, and Iverson's personality might not be a fit. The Heat have plenty of egos already. There are the Knicks, who are still looking to add pieces, but it's unclear whether a weathered 35-year-old could survived that up-tempo brand of basketball. There are the Sixers again, always a possibility, but A.I. may have already burned too many bridges there.
Essentially, there are just a whole lot of unknowns.
It's hard to imagine all 30 teams in the NBA passing on a surefire future Hall of Famer, but at the same time, it's hard to imagine any one team taking him.
Allen Iverson has always been known as The Answer, but right now, all we have is questions.