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Re: “The Iverson Dilemma: Logic Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Iverson is a great but imperfect player. He plays harder and more fearlessly than just about anyone who's ever played the game, a little 160 pounder throwing himself into the lane with guys who weigh twice what he does. The Sixers' playoff run that took them through the playoffs and put them up on the cusp of having the Lakers down 2-0 in the Finals represented one of the greatest examples ever of a player putting a mediocre team on this back and taking them places no one could have expected.
His passion and his fearlessness can sometimes be big weaknesses -- his hardheadness with coaches and his over-the-top comments to the media have on more than one occasion hurt his teams. But it's hard to separate the good from the bad with Iverson, they're all of a piece.
I have no doubt that race places a role in the way people react to Iverson, prompting some (but not all) people to magnify his faults and dismiss his strengths. I think about one of my favorite athletes, Brett Favre -- a great player, a risk taker, a gamer, a guy with a history of both brilliant and erratic play, a quarterback with a history of drug addiction (according to his own father), a veteran who retired, unretired, got into a verbal fisticuffs with his old team etc. etc. He has his critics, but he's generally been praised as a force of nature and good for the game. Imagine if he were black. I believe that the reactions to him among some (though not all) fans and sportswriters would be remarkably harsher, more like the reaction to Iverson.
The point is that great athletes aren't angels. They're flesh and blood human beings. They do great things, and they do stupid things. People want to remember the "good old days," a Golden Era when athletes were better, more humble and praiseworthy. Those days never existed. Hall of Famer Ty Cobb was a thug who went into the stands and brutally beat a disabled fan who'd heckled him. The now-sainted Ted Williams used to give the fans in Boston the finger -- literally. Babe Ruth caroused and boozed and had a giant ego, all of which caused him to miss games and hurt his team. The Babe and other legends of the past, however, thrived in a different media era, and now have the advantage of nostalgia-tinted memories.
I will be watching the Iverson Experiment with much interest. It could blow up in Memphis' face, or it could produce something memorable that will take a weak franchise to another level.

Posted by mwh on 11/04/2009 at 1:37 PM


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