Family Comes First for Absent Iverson
That would be his five kids. In fact, Iverson joked when his fifth one arrived in October 2008 that he had a full lineup.
Throughout his career, family has always been more important to the Philadelphia guard than basketball. On many occasions, he has taken the podium for a post-game interview with one of his kids on his lap or sitting next to him.
So it has surprised no one close to Iverson that he has taken another leave of absence to be with his 4-year-old daughter, Messiah, who is being treated for an undetermined illness.
Iverson had missed five games early in February and the NBA All-Star Game to tend to his daughter, who has been in hospitals in Atlanta and Philadelphia as doctors seek to determine her condition. Then, after returning for three games, he has missed the past three games, and it's unknown if he'll even be back this season.
"His body was in one place but his mind was still with his family,'' guard Willie Green, one of just four players remaining with Philadelphia from Iverson's initial 1996-2006 stint with the team, said before Friday's game against the Los Angeles Lakers. "So he took some more time off.''
It was evident in the three games Iverson played following his return his mind was elsewhere. He averaged a mere 8.0 points while shooting 7-of-28 (25.0 percent).
The 76ers granted Iverson an indefinite leave last Monday. Philadelphia coach Eddie Jordan said in an interview Friday with FanHouse he doesn't know if Iverson will be back this season but the team should have some sort of determination on that in the next week.
"We're getting through this trip, and then we'll understand more when we get home,'' said Jordan, whose team concluded a four-game trip Friday and next plays Tuesday at home against Orlando. "It's been a mystery about what ails (Messiah). That's why (Iverson) has been in and out. So there aren't any new answers yet... We would know in the next week or so (whether Iverson might miss the rest of the season).''
Doctors at one point evaluated Messiah for the possibility of pneumonia, but there has been no apparent confirmation of her condition. After she was first treated in Atlanta, Iverson's primarily place of residence, Iverson had her looked at by a specialist at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia.
"I have five kids," said Iverson, speaking to the media about his daughter's condition on Feb. 15, after he returned from his initial absence. "None of them have ever been this sick. It's a first-time thing for me. I like to look at myself as a strong person, especially dealing with everything in my life. But this is a totally different situation.
"You find out you're not as tough as you thought you were when it's one of your kids. All I do is just pray on it. Everyone that cares anything about me and my family, I wish them to do the same, because that's all that can be done right now, because they don't know exactly what's wrong with her. ... The strongest man in the world, I don't think they could deal with it if something happened to one of their kids. I just love my kids.''
The severity of Messiah's condition became further apparent when Iverson skipped the Feb. 14 All-Star Game after being voted in as a starter. With all the criticism directed at Iverson for being tabbed by the fans despite his pedestrian statistics (his current averages are 13.8 points and 4.0 assists), you know Iverson had been determined to show up and prove he belonged.
But that all was forgotten after Messiah was readmitted to the hospital. Iverson, 34, pulled out of the All-Star Game on Feb. 11.
After last Monday's announcement, there has been plenty of talk about Iverson having possibly played his last game for the 76ers. Iverson, who was traded from Philadelphia to Denver in December 2006, rejoined the 76ers for a Dec. 7 game against the Nuggets after beginning the season with Memphis and being waived after complaining about not starting.
A cynic might suggest Iverson could be waived by Monday's deadline, the last date for a player to be let go and be eligible for the playoffs with another team. That way, should Messiah get better and with the 76ers far out of playoff contention, Iverson would be eligible to eventually join another team for the postseason.
"That hasn't crossed our mind,'' Jordan said of the March 1 deadline. "There hasn't been a discussion.''
As far as Jordan is concerned, the entire issue is the health of Iverson's daughter. That's how his teammates also are viewing it.
"We're not sure,'' Green said of whether Iverson will be back this season. "Family comes first. If I were in his position, I'd be doing the same thing.''
Other than Green, remaining players from Iverson's first tenure with the 76ers are center Samuel Dalembert and guards Andre Iguodala and Louis Williams.
"He was strong and (came back to the team after his first leave) and tried to be professional,'' Dalembert said. "But family is first. It was kind of difficult because he was doing what he was supposed to do here, and being a leader of the young guys, and doing what had been asked of him.''
After plenty of drama in his first 76ers stint, Iverson was trying very hard to fit in with the 76ers and resurrect his career after a tough time last season with Detroit and an even worse start this season with Memphis. He game was up and down but he did score 20 or more points in two of four games before his initial leave.
"He was getting (Jordan's) Princeton offense and he was starting to mesh with us as a team and his body was getting back in shape,'' 76ers forward Jason Smith said of the road back for Iverson, who missed most of training camp due to a hamstring problem and didn't play for a month before joining Philadelphia after his three-game stint with Memphis. "But life and death is a little bit more important than basketball. It's a little bit more serious than winning a game or two.''
That always been evident for Iverson. He might have won four scoring titles but he's got a 4-year-old far more important than any of that.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson.