Game Recognizes Game: A.I. Thrown to the Lions, er, Grizzlies

Some theories are simply better left unproven.

Case in point, a few years back when I was toiling long hours on a project for ESPN The Magazine and happened upon a debate between several of the mag’s editors. The subject was none other than Allen Iverson–they all were adamant that the moment A.I. began to show the slightest hint he’s lost a step, he’d instantly be discarded from the League in the same heartless manner ground squirrels are known to devour their young.

The idea was The Answer had simply burned too many bridges. His free-spirited nature was the direct result of far too much angst and tension among all those powerfully unforgiving beings that likewise signed his paychecks.

I thought for a moment back then about what it must feel like to be chastised for simply being who you are, vilified because your personality–no matter how innately genuine it may seem–is different from what the powers that be would have it.

Still I kept it moving, not to reminisce of such matters again until a few years later, when as sports editor for a Russell Simmons-owned Web property I met with A.I. in his hometown of Newport News, Virginia to talk Larry Brown, the City of Brotherly Love and his foray into the rap game.

It wasn’t long before I was getting to know and understand an Allen Iverson far different from the one I’d long been presented with. He talked love of family, vocation and for all of mankind. He talked honor, giving back to his community and how he too had heard many of the same rumblings voiced in those ESPN offices back in the day.

“I know when I’m done playing, I’m pretty much done with basketball,” The Answer reflected. “You won’t see hanging around any body’s arena. If that’s the price for not turning my back on my friends just because some people think they’re not good people, so be it. I’ve known most of them all my life, and I know otherwise.”

But NBA GMs and execs know what they know, too, or at least what they perceive to know. So when A.I.’s numbers fell off to 18 ppg last season from 26 the year before, many of them sought to seize their moment.

Granted, Iverson just signed a one-year deal with the Memphis Grizzlies that will pair him with newbie hotshot O.J. Mayo in the backcourt, at nearly $4 million. Still, at a salary decrease of around $18 million from the season prior, you can’t help but feel this may be the beginning of the end in the big payback.

Yeah, I know all the baggage A.I. carries. The missed practices, problems with the law and issues with his posse. But I also know that over his 13-year career few have played the game any better or harder.

Still think this was just about basketball? -Glenn Minnis