But first, what Allen Iverson's relocation says about our idea of legacy.
Back when Allen Iverson was rumored to be on his way to signing with a club in the Chinese Basketball Association, I argued that the pity and shock from American fans resulted primarily from our low level of enthusiasm about Chinese basketball. The deal fell through, though, and everyone's worst fears for Iverson -- that'd he become a man playing Allen Iverson covers in Shanghai, a veritable circus act -- were dismissed.
Now reports suggest A.I. is on the precipice of signing with Besiktas, a mid-rung Turkish club that is not participating in Euroleague (Europe's top competition) this season. Yahoo! reports that Iverson's business manager has confirmed that negotations are underway; the salary on the table looks to be about $2 million, or just above the NBA's veteran's minimum salary for a player of A.I.'s experience.
In other words, to remain a star, Iverson is willing to move to Turkey and play for a non-elite club for basically little financial benefit. Maybe, if the rumors about A.I.'s cash problems are true, Iverson has no choice and must take the most lucrative deal available. In that case, how would this be different than China? If Besiktas is ultimately anonymous, isn't it exactly the same as what Stephon Marbury is doing in China?
This, of course, fits Iverson's legend to a tee. Instead of chasing a ring in the NBA (something he could have tried last year, as well), he's chasing money and evidence he can still be a star in Istanbul. There's a certain pride threshold A.I. just can't allow himself to fall under; essentially, he's the opposite of Robert Horry, who (in appearances, at least) couldn't give two twitches of a goat's beard about elevating himself as an individual.
The irony is that in his selflessness, his obsession with winning, Horry found great personal fame, and even some ridiculous campaigns for the ultimate individual glory, a bust in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. In pressing to keep his name in neon, Iverson has sullied said name, and has diverted onto a path reserved for the sport's tragic figures.
But that's not fair. Devotion to winning, known for veterans clinging to their careers for dear life as "ring-chasing," is just another iteration of the quest for personal glory. The concept of legacy is a weird one everywhere, but perhaps especially in America. Outside of sports, someone seeking to guarantee their legacy is seen as too calculating, too proud. Legacy is too abstract a goal for common man to focus on achieving.
But for athletes? It's all fans care about. How much of the LeBron James firefight was about whether his legacy could survive leaving Cleveland to get his title? A 26-year-old man, and we're debating his potential decision in the context of his legacy? We, as fans, largely focus all our attention on winning, on glory, on legacy. So we can't exactly blame athletes for following our lead.
Yet, that's no different than Iverson's quest. He just plays for a different team than most cats. A.I. is his own team, with his own rabid fanbase and his own version of championship. That championship probably includes a lot of crossovers and a lot of points. He can't do that in the NBA any more; he's burned too many bridges, and honestly, his wheels are losing rubber fast. Going to an inferior league, whether it be the Turkish table or otherwise, allows Iverson to stay on his quest. This is A.I.'s ring-chasing, and laughing at his misfortune only serves to call into question everything we believe about the ultimate goal of sports. Do so at your own existential peril. (TZ)
What We Like (Or, The Things We'll Miss During the Great '11-12 Season Shutdown): Gregg Popovich
What We Like champions the unlikely things we'll miss if the league shuts down next summer. Rob Peterson is a FanHouse producer.
Initially, this was to be about how we love watch the way San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich stands at attention during the National Anthem. In part, it still will be. Yet, as the entry developed, it was easy to see this essay should be about more than how Pop stands. It should be about Pop.
Because, besides Suns fans, who doesn't love Pop? We're not just talking about his accomplishments such as the four NBA titles and how he and Tim Duncan have forged the greatest coach-big man relationship this side of Red Auerbach and Bill Russell. We're talking about Pop life.
Let's start with his form during the Anthem. Everyone in the NBA has their way of standing during Francis Scott Key's ditty about American resilience during the War of 1812. Some sway. Some rock, shifting their weight from foot to foot. Some have their hands clasped behind them or a hand over their heart. That's each person's right as an individual.
For Pop, it's as if time stood still and he's still a plebe at the Air Force Academy in the late '60s.
Check out the photo. Textbook.
• Head erect and staring straight
• Heels together, feet turned out equally forming a 45 degree angle with the body weight resting equally on the heels and balls of the feet
• Keep legs straight without stiffening or locking the knees
• Hold body erect with the hips level, stomach in, chest lifted and arched, and the shoulders square and even
• Arms hang straight along the sides/seams; curling the fingers as if holding roll of quarters
Pop stands out because he stands still, and it's mesmerizing mostly because everyone else does move. Not Pop. He does not blink. It's as if one flutter of the eyelid would subject him to more abuse than any plebe should rightfully endure. He looks as if he's getting an earful from a cadet who just ate an onion and garlic sandwich with jalapeño relish and a sour pickle and Extreme Doritos on the side.
"If my breath is going to make a puke like you blink, what do you think the Soviets will do to you when they shoot you out of the sky?"
Speaking of the Soviets, Pop -- the only NBA coach to go to a military academy -- earned a degree at the AFA in Soviet studies. He wanted to use that degree to become Jason Bourne.
"Really, the only thing on my mind at that point was I wanted to be in counterintelligence and do whatever that meant," Popovich said in a 2005 interview.
One article even references him attending "spy school" where we're sure he tested well. Though, he wouldn't tell us if we asked and would have to kill us if he did tell us.
But instead of making a living (and possibly dying) in counterintelligence, he toured Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union with the Armed Forces team. Because Pop isn't an NBA lifer who worked his way up through the ranks to become a head coach, the early part of his biography still maintains its mysterious and romantic allure. Players even allude to it, as Steve Nash did in 2008, saying Pop was an "American spy in Russia."
"He's absolutely correct," Popovich said. "I spent all my military time in Russian basketball courts and different cities collecting as many out-of-bounds plays as I possibly could. Now I finally get a chance to employ them."
But instead of becoming Bourne the spy, Popovich became Bourne's alter ego, David Webb the professor. That's another thing we love about Pop. He teaches, but he suffers no fools. He shuts down questions he considers a waste of his time and is famous for his contempt of on-court interviews.
Pop, however, isn't without wit. Remember when Shaquille O'Neal complained about the Spurs' Hack-a-Shaq strategery in the 2008 postseason, going so far as to call Popovich a coward?
How did Pop handle Shaq's whining? Brilliantly and hilariously.
Who better to handle Shaq than Popovich, who knows his wine from whine? Popovich is part-owner of an Oregon winery and has a 3,000-bottle above-ground wine cellar. He's probably the only coach who could quote Dorothy Parker while drinking wine with Robert Parker.
"Want a beer, coach?"
"No, make mine a Petrus."
Gladly. Let us all raise a glass and drink to Gregg Popovich, a rare NBA vintage whose bouquet only improves with age. (RP)
FreeDarko.com is in the middle of Dream Week, which really should be called Dream Month, since it will run right up through the release of The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History on October 26. Randy Kim contributed his impressions of Hakeem in words and crayon; stay tuned for pieces from FanHouse's Rob Peterson, Tom Ziller, and maybe even some guy named Shoals.
The Works Season Previews: Charlotte Bobcats
Nobody has the entire National Basketball Association at his fingertips, and believe it or not, the brains of Msr. Ziller and Msr. Shoals are not connected by tape and electrical wire. To get prepped -- and pumped -- for the upcoming season, we will interrogate each about the darkest corners of this league. For each team, some questions. And for each question, some answers. Today, the Bobcats.
TZ: The Bobcats are light at point guard and center. Conventional wisdom calls those the most important positions. How is this tenable?
BS: It isn't. That, and not some strange mission to correct the path of history, is why Michael Jordan signed free agent Kwame Brown. Point guard isn't quite as rough, unless you think the Knicks pulled off the coup of the century by signing Raymond Felton. Felton's job was a hundred percent safe in Charlotte, with D.J. Augustin breathing down his neck. He's still around. There's wild cards Shaun Livingston and Javaris Crittenton. Oh, and like it or not, Stephen Jackson has a long history of handling the ball and impersonating a point guard. They're light at PG, but there are some options there. At very least, it should be interesting. As for the center position, well, let's assume they're looking to go small -- Gerald Wallace can hit the boards a little -- or return to the Boris Diaw: Center practices of the 2005-06 Phoenix Suns.
But it's Larry Brown here, so likely they will stick Brown, DeSagna Diop, or Nazr Mohammed, and ask them to plug away. Or, if you want to look at it another way, the Bobcats are only light if you expect them to be really, really good. Maybe Darius Miles can play both positions. That would solve everything.
TZ: Gerald Wallace made an All-Star team, but possibly has less hype than ever. Has success tampered what made Wallace so compelling a player, or are we all just idiots for ignoring him?
BS: Well, the most depressing answer is that Gerald Wallace stopped being cool when everyone else found out about him. I like to think of it another way: Wallace stopped being a cause celebre when he made the All-Star team, which isn't to say we all lost interest, but that when criminally underrated players earn some recognition, there's a feeling of "mission accomplished." That doesn't mean you won't enjoy watching them anymore, or even go out of your way to do so, but there's not that sense if you have to as some sort of advocate. Gerald Wallace doesn't need our help anymore. Now he's just a star we forget about because he's small market and unassuming. It's on Wallace to make us fiery believers again, either by pulling off some sort of unforeseen statistical nonsense, or coming back from an unspeakable injury in a way that demands an after school special.
TZ: Wherever Stephen Jackson goes, he wins. Has he created a new mold as a player, or is he in some way a singular talent? Is there a Stephen Jackson template someone like Terrence Williams can follow?
BS: Even if you get past all the prejudices against Stephen Jackson, and can manage to somehow separate the good from the bad, the Bobcats vet remains one of the hardest player in the league to get a handle on. I think the bottom line is that Jackson is a very versatile guy who, everywhere he goes, finds a way to play a key role. He's a very pushy team player. For Williams to fit this mold, he would have to both demand attention, and then show that he's worth not only humoring, but trusting. That he won't just fit into the team, but that his decision-making is strong enough to make it a key part of the squad's hive-mind -- of the very structure of the team.
The Works is a daily column written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Tom Ziller (@teamziller). Their Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History will be available this October.