First let me get this out of the way: I've never been a big fan of Allen Iverson.
Ok, I can appreciate his talents and that he's sacrificed his tiny (by NBA standards) body and became one of the most improbable high scorers in league history. He averaged at least 39 minutes a game in each of his first 12 seasons in the league. Still, he always seemed like kind of a selfish jerk - his "we're talking about practice" rant highlighted just how little respect he had for his teammates and the game.
He's at the journeyman portion of his career now, playing for his third team in the last two season after a long and illustrious career with Philadelphia. While there was some success in Denver, you can't deny that they played better after he left. The 54-game experiment in Detroit was a disaster last year, and now comes the Memphis stint, which is already showing signs of trouble after just a few weeks.
First there was a partial tear in Iverson's hamstring that kept him out of the entire preseason and the first three regular-season games. When he did return to action, A.I. wasn't happy with his playing time. Then comes the mysterious "family issue" that has taken him away from the team for the last week. Giving him the benefit of the doubt that it's a real issue (and I hope for his sake that everyone in his family is ok), now some sources have him contemplating retirement. Even with a little left in the tank, it's clear that he's nearing the end of the road.
My question is: what is Iverson's legacy? Does he ultimately get remembered for the great player he was? Someone who gave his all, but couldn't make his teams better? A controversial malcontent? A misunderstood superstar?
Iverson will be remembered as a better player than Tracy McGrady, a player who (fairly or not) will be remembered as someone who could never get out of the first round, but A.I.'s playoff portfolio isn't a whole lot better. Only one Iverson-led team (the 2000-2001 76ers) won a division or even made it past the second round. They won the first game of the NBA Championship that year, but then lost the next four. It's not Iverson's fault that he didn't have much around him, but if wants to be remembered as an all-time great, I'd like to see a better playoff record - in his last six years he has played in only 14 playoff games, and so far it doesn't look like 2010 will be any better.
The signing with Memphis was telling. This is not a good team yet. Iverson thinks he should be starting, and is upset he's not. I realize he didn't have many (any?) other options during the offseason, but if he's serious about starting and winning, why go to Memphis? It appears that it's all about him, not the team.
And that's really what it's all about to me. Yes, Iverson has been unfortunate to spend his career on some shaky teams, but it looks like that's the way he wants it. If the choice is to be a role player on a good team or the star of a bad one, Iverson would rather be the star. When I look back on the A.I. era, that's how I'm going to see him.