Allen Iverson: Fallen Star

With his NBA career over, his marriage in trouble, and rumors swirling about drinking and money problems, the greatest Sixer of his era finds himself playing minor-league basketball in Turkey and spending his nights at a T.G.I. Friday’s in Istanbul. Isn’t it, weirdly, exactly how we always thought it would end for Allen Iverson?

 

In Philly, we ate it up. It was his defiance, and skill, and something even better: He was incapable of hiding, of not being himself. No other athlete is like that. He became infamous for a press conference where he defended himself for skipping and showing up late for practice (and, occasionally, hungover). It was a press conference in which he uttered the word “practice” 26 times dismissively, as in “We’re talking about practice,” and at the same time, with each of those 26 “practice”-es, his wide child’s eyes showed just how bewildered he was to be judged in a way he couldn’t quite fathom. In his world, practice didn’t count. But even in defiance he looked wounded. That, too, was riveting.

Other stories hit the press. He was stopped by cops in Virginia while riding in a car’s passenger seat with a registered gun on the floor and in possession of marijuana. He was sued by a guy who wouldn’t leave a VIP area in a lounge and was beaten up by Iverson’s bodyguard as Iverson impassively watched. (The guy won $260,000.) He got into a scrape with Tawanna in which he supposedly threw her, naked, out of their house in Gladwyne — then showed up at a cousin’s place in West Philly looking for her, allegedly with a gun in his pants. (The allegation fell apart in court.) All of this was momentarily shocking, but not surprising; the only issue was whether he’d tumble into a scrape he couldn’t roll out of. Whether he was a heart-on-his-sleeve man-child or a thug, either way, we couldn’t get enough of him.

He thrived on movement and chaos, on testing the limits. Close observers noticed that he seemed to play better the night after staying out until all hours or gambling huge amounts down at the Taj. A very mediocre Sixers team would ride him all the way to the finals in 2001, the tiniest guy with the biggest will.

His way: When the team was on the road, Iverson and his posse would move the mattresses off their beds to the floor in their hotel rooms. Because it helped them feel comfortable. Because that’s how they’d grown up.

ISTANBUL DOESN’T FEEL LIKE AN ANCIENT CITY, just that it’s 1974 in some ways: Laundry dries from apartment balconies; nobody wears seat belts; the men smoke; older women, especially, wear head scarves. It is pretty and hilly and crowded and very friendly. The men have a hard look, as if they just might pull out a sword and give you a hack, but a mere hello on the street stops all the locals — they smile, they’ll break out their English for a little chat. It is a city, and country, moving westward.

But Allen Iverson — at least, the one who once got so drunk at Bally’s that he pissed in a potted plant for all the gambling world to see, and who was lovingly written up in a Power 99 DJ’s memoir for having sex in the front seat of his Bentley while he drove — seems way too West.

Gambling is illegal in Turkey; Iverson would have to hop a plane for an hour to Bulgaria or Cyprus to throw dice. Worse, his team, Besiktas, often practices twice a day, there’s no break for Christmas, and the off-season escape back to America lasts all of two months. Training camp features early-morning team-spirit-building runs through the woods.

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