I kid him about going to Friday’s in Istanbul, though he doesn’t seem to see it as teasing:
“Man, listen,” he says. “I didn’t know that the Philly cheesesteak wrap was that good when I was in Philly. I tried them when I got out here and every day since then. Every day since then!”
Iverson is startling, both handsome and almost cherubic. His eyes, the irises and pupils very nearly the same color, are vast. He laughs easily. What was for a decade a hopeful wisp of a mustache on a boy is now several days’ growth in full Fu Manchu mode. I’m talking to somebody I don’t recognize: a 35-year-old man, calm and measured. And he really is willing to talk.
“Everybody is making a big deal out of the money and making $2 million — what do people want me to do? Sit at home and just watch basketball, or play at the YMCA? I had to do what I had to do to continue playing basketball.”
Ah, yes, two big issues there. First, whether he is broke — a guy who has pocketed some $200 million in salary and endorsements over the past 15 years. It would emerge a week or so later that Iverson- is selling some of his collected memorabilia on eBay, and a lot of people are saying he’s gambled and partied and supported hangers-on to the point of going through all that cash. But Iverson laughs softly, high up in the Besiktas stands:
“I would be a damn fool to blow that much money and have five kids to take care of. One thing I do have, and I can say, is that I do have money. A lot.”
But on the matter of what he had to do to keep playing basketball, that’s a little more complicated. It really begins with Iverson washing out of Philly in late 2006. The previous spring, the team tried to trade him, but a deal fell through. Yet the specter of a trade could never be, for Iverson, merely about changing his city of employment. It would be about control, and loyalty, and love.
Which is why, in very short order, he verbally lashed coach Mo Cheeks at a practice and walked out, blew off a mandatory team function, and pulled himself from a game in Chicago complaining of back spasms.
The team told him to stay home. A week later, he was playing for Denver.
But something funny happened in Denver, in the soft mountain air. Iverson was ready to start over. He listened to coach George Karl (and still hoisted a lot of shots). He went to practice. He was out and about, but kept his late-night high jinks under wraps. He liked the schools in Denver for his kids. And he liked the possibility that he and fellow star Carmelo Anthony could make a run at a championship.