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?

 

All this seems antithetical to the Iverson mode of living, yet as I finally get within shouting distance of him during his Besiktas practices, he’s the most spirited teammate. During a scrimmage he claps and laughs and encourages across the language barrier and breaks into a Marvin Gaye falsetto for a moment; after one missed fast-break pass, he leaps onto the back of a teammate in a rousing we’re-all-in-this-together show.

His first game in Turkey, played in the Besiktas home arena that is smaller than Iverson’s high-school gym, features the loudest crowd I’ve ever sat among, with stomping and clapping and hooting. It’s an indoor soccer match.

Iverson’s scaled-down posse is easy to spot in the stands: two large black guys, one with a big diamond earring, one with a deeply lined face and a baseball cap pulled low, with a gorgeous, eye-blinking bi-
racial woman in tow, and a mixed-race buddy with a red ponytail, diamond-shaped earrings and heavy silver chains. I point out these particulars because it is impossible not to stare at them, which seems like a dangerous thing to do even in Turkey. Their standout presence is so at odds with both Iverson’s careful, controlled first game and the crowd’s careful, nervous solicitation of him. He is clearly rusty; when he drops a little stop-and-go move into the basket, scoring his first points, the crowd goes berserk and then shh-shh-shh’s itself to give Iverson complete quietude while he contemplates the ensuing free throw. When he makes it, everyone goes berserk again.

Basketball, though, is still a niche sport in Turkey, and the skill level of Iverson’s team, I’m judging, is on the level of a middling Division I college program here; Besiktas plays in the Turkish league, not in the superior Euroleague. I ask people on the street, in hotels, in cabs, what Iverson’s coming means to Turkey; a lot have no idea who he is. One cabbie says, “Iverson! Yes!” and then turns up the radio he turned down when he picked me up — a game blared. “This is the sport here,” he says. “Football!” Soccer, in other words. Allen Iverson, basketball star, is in a foreign place.

THE THIRD DAY I GO TO PRACTICE, Iverson is sitting alone on the bench, and it’s time to desist with managers and handlers. I go up to him and ask if we can talk.
“About what?” he says, his voice deep and terse, his arms on the back of the bench. He tells me to talk to his manager about it.

But the next day, Iverson agrees to talk, and he surprises me. After practice, I follow him up into the empty stands. Later, people who know him well tell me that once he believes somebody is okay and not out to hurt him, the wall comes down, and that’s what I discover: a friendly guy.

He’s touched, he says, by how nice everyone has been in Turkey. “That was one of the biggest things coming to Istanbul,” he says. “Somebody wanted you.” When nobody in the NBA did. When it was the only overseas offer made in writing, $2 million a year for two years.

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  • Christopher

    You say Friday’s like you’re surprised. It’s no secret Friday’s & Houlihan’s were always his favorites in Philly.

  • Christopher

    Missed the page where Friday’s & Houlihan’s were mentioned. Sorry!

  • Steve

    He made $200 million and has to play in Turkey? That’s just idiocy – dumb- stupid – screwed up — and it appears he will be forever. I hope you never publish another Iverson story. Glad I would not let my child wear his jersey.

  • a

    No clue why you are bashing him for playing in Turkey. Turkey is a very nice and friendly city. The purpose of him playing is not cause he is broke but because he wants still to play and for a place that wants him. It’s a smart move on his part.

  • Kid

    This loser has gone from “The Answer” to “The Turkey”

  • Emre

    My american friends, even you don’t know the rest of the world, you still comment about it. Do you know that Turkey played for gold medal vs USA in the World Cup? If you do, you wouldn’t be sarcastic about this beautiful country or its basketball quality. I know that NBA is the best and we watch almost every game of Hedo Turkoglu and Mehmet Okur. But sadly, you don’t even know them, right? Iverson is playing in Istanbul cause we love this game and watching its talents. One thing about the author, you went to Istanbul, you don’t even know that Bosphorus is not a river, it’s a strait, like Bering. And Iverson is not the greatest thing for Turkish Basketball, it’s our NBA players and our second place in the world and europe cup. So please, make some research before writing something and don’t be ignorant about the rest of the world.

  • Emre

    My american friends, even you don’t know the rest of the world, you still comment about it. Do you know that Turkey played for gold medal vs USA in the World Cup? If you do, you wouldn’t be sarcastic about this beautiful country or its basketball quality. I know that NBA is the best and we watch almost every game of Hedo Turkoglu and Mehmet Okur. But sadly, you don’t even know them, right? Iverson is playing in Istanbul cause we love this game and watching its talents. One thing about the author, you went to Istanbul, you don’t even know that Bosphorus is not a river, it’s a strait, like Bering. And Iverson is not the greatest thing for Turkish Basketball, it’s our NBA players and our second place in the world and europe cup. So please, make some research before writing something and don’t be ignorant about the rest of the world.

  • ben

    a man from philly can get lost in istanbul easy, besiktas is level of a middling division college team, it competes in a league which are competitive in euroleauge, go kiss your selfself

  • Mike

    Dude, do your research. First the Turkish Beko League is anything but “middling”. Too, Turkish teams that play in the Euroleague obviously play in the Turkish league.

    So if the Turkish league is

  • Mike

    Dude, do your research. First the Turkish Beko League is anything but “middling”. Too, Turkish teams that play in the Euroleague obviously play in the Turkish league.

    So if the Turkish league is

  • Mike

    Dude, do your research. First the Turkish Beko League is anything but “middling”. Too, Turkish teams that play in the Euroleague obviously play in the Turkish league.

    So if the Turkish league is

  • Mike

    Dude, do your research. First the Turkish Beko League is anything but “middling”. Too, Turkish teams that play in the Euroleague obviously play in the Turkish league.

    So if the Turkish league is

  • Mike

    Dude, do your research. First the Turkish Beko League is anything but “middling”. Too, Turkish teams that play in the Euroleague obviously play in the Turkish league.

    So if the Turkish league is

  • Mike

    awful and the Euroleague so great why are two Turkish teams playing in both leagues? ( Efes and Fenerbahce)

    You need to do your homework dude. This was a piece written with good intentions yet lac