The Retirement of Mr. Me Too

As the 2013-2014 NBA season kicks off, we also say goodbye to Allen Iverson, who LeBron James considers to be the "pound-for-pound… greatest player who ever played."

No need for an introduction after that type of co-sign.

A.I. was mighty mouse. The dopest, diminutive offensive Martian to ever grace an NBA court.

He looked like a high school kid, and dressed like a platinum-selling rapper. Few could dominate the hardwood like the brash, athletically freakish, braid rocking, bandana brandishing, truck-jewelry flossing Iverson.

The 6-0, 155-pound lightening rod, NBA MVP and four-time scoring champ, officially retired Wednesday after 14 memorable years. He was a champion for the little guy who carried mountainous burdens. "A.I. was the best under 6-2 baller (along with Tiny Archibald and Chris Paul and Isaiah Thomas) that I've ever seen," said the 5-foot assassin Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest. "I love the fact that he believed in being himself, never backed down from anyone and took pride in bustin ya' ass on the court or on the asphalt. He's my favorite baller in the last 20 years."

It’s unfortunate that Iverson didn’t get the city-to-city farewell tour and adulation he deserved before hanging it up. A sure first ballot Hall of Famer, A.I. is a once in a generation talent who revolutionized the culture of the game and pushed the envelope for future self-promoters and polarizing figures. Every human with a pulse got goose bumps when A.I. worked that black magic on the hardwood. You could find him posted up in clubs and celebrity bashes nightly, with the same ferocity.

He rarely held his tongue. He could be a headache for coaches. Despite A.I.’s combative personality and Napoleonic confidence, his skills made him the irreplaceable centerpiece of the Philadelphia 76ers franchise.

His greatness with the rock is undeniable, but Iverson was able to transcend sports and become a cult-icon. He was also the great African-American enigma. The older, more conservative NBA community didn’t dig A.I.'s  hip-hop style. Despite his mainstream popularity as a face of the NBA, Iverson went against the grain in almost everything he did.

He hung with unsavory street cats, and he wore his disdain for the establishment and conventionality on his sleeve, like his tattoos that are so common today but were considered “thuggish” back then.

Thanks to Iverson, magazines don’t airbrush athlete’s tats anymore when they get featured on covers. Tats are actually encouraged these days and add to the intrigue of an athlete’s self-expression within their coveted sub-culture.

The younger generation saw him as a rebel and a hero, Iverson was a symbol of the “eff da police” persona that began with NWA in the late 80’s and became prevalent in movies, music and the attitudes of youngsters of the 90’s, and early millennium. The confident brashness of his infamous sound bite questioning the importance of practice, has become the defining clip when explaining why Iverson was so dope…and where his career went wrong.

But when he was in his zone, on his NBA stage, nobody gave a damn about practice. Who can forget when “The Answer” crossed over MJ?

Or when Iverson dropped 50 as a rookie against the Cavs.

Iverson’s shining NBA moment was when he led Philly to the NBA Finals in 2001. The young G dropped 48 in a stunning Game 1 overtime upset of the Shaq and Kobe-led Dynasty Lakers, who eventually won the series 4-1. That game established him as a one-man wrecking crew.

The same ego, fighting spirit and narcissistic existence that allowed Bubbachuck (his childhood nickname) to rise out of the ghettos of Newport News, survive a bid on a Hampton penitentiary farm—and made A.I. a relentless tree-chopper and 11-time NBA All-Star (2000-2010)—also manifested itself as debilitating selfishness later in his career.

“Growing up I heard all of these stories about how nobody makes it from Newport News or Hampton, (Virginia) to the NBA,” Iverson said at his retirement press conference on Wednesday. “But I must have been crazy… because I actually believed I could make it… I fought.“

Fighting the odds was A.I.'s motivation. A.I. doesn’t have a fallback gene. Consequently, he couldn’t accept the reality of his decline. After a decade as Philly’s “Golden Child,”rather than accept a bench role and become an invaluable asset to a young team, Iverson refused to ride pine in Denver (2006-2008) Detroit (2008-2009) and in Memphis (2009). His unwillingness to face the music, led to his premature and uncelebrated departure from the NBA.

It was sad seeing an NBA legend playing in Turkey for a check. Reports of Iverson being broke are even more disheartening and a result of the gung-ho, carefree, overindulgent way he lived his life.

After all, he earned over $200 million during his 15-year NBA career, and a Reebok endorsement netted son $50 million. So what happened to that gwop?

It’s no secret Iverson lived lavishly, showering friends and family with gifts, huge cribs, flashy whips and boats. He rolled with a 50-person entourage and had an affinity for expensive jewels, and multi-million dollar homes.

Rumor has it, Iverson managed to blow $1 million during one night in Atlantic City and then was banned due to unpaid gambling debts. His divorce to his wife Tiwanna cost him another $1.2 million.The financial plunge didn't stop A.I. from living like it was 1999

According to, even after Iverson declared bankruptcy, he was still spending roughly $10,000 a month on clothes, $10,000 a month on groceries, $10,000 a month on entertainment and dining out, and $1,000 a month on dry cleaning. All in all, he was spending over $360,000 a month on a $62,500 income and managed to spend himself into a $150 million hole.

It didn’t have to end like this for A.I. In a nutshell, he never learned how to share his shine. The critics say he wouldn’t even do it to win more games. The fact that there’s no NBA Championship ring amongst the massive collection of jewels Iverson owns, makes it hard to bust down the haters. Without that ring, Iverson haters retain the ammunition to say he wasn’t a team player. He was all about “me.”

For so long, Iverson wasted valuable NBA time, trying to hang on to king status instead of accepting the fact that thrones are eventually lost. A king can either make peace and fit into a new regime in order to go out on top, or overrate his importance and get crushed.

The A.I. that took the podium at Wednesday’s press conference still dressed like a 22-year old, but sported the eye bags of a guy pushing 40 and coming off a five-year bid. He was very humble and honest about mistakes he’s made and his rough maturation process. I actually saw a glimmer of hope, that his adult life might finally be ready to begin.

As the lights continue to dim and the memories fade, all A.I. will have is his legacy, which at this point is still a work in progress.

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