It was all good except for the last part. The Nuggets washed out of the playoffs in the first round two years running, and at the beginning of the third year, Iverson was traded to Detroit, because the Nuggets believed that at 33, he was slowing down.
With that, it all came crashing down, very fast. Detroit wanted Iverson to be a substitute, to not even freakin’ start.
The problem, Iverson says, was that he was lied to by rookie coach Michael Curry, who told him he’d never ask him to come off the bench. Then, not even a week later, he was no longer a starter. He was a role player. He was ordinary. And from the time he was an infant, from the time his mother Ann saw his arms and hands and knew what he was going to be, Iverson had never been ordinary.
It was the moment almost all pro athletes, especially big-time pro athletes, can’t come to grips with when it hits: Their bodies are winding down. To Iverson, a tiny man in a big man’s world, his game built not just on speed but on a survivor’s arrogance that he must be the very best — this was not something he’d stomach.
I can feel it now, talking to him, his pain and arrogance both: Still in his practice uniform, he pulls his sweatband over his eyes, cradles his head in his hands. This moment for him came on so fast.
What was Iverson without his athletic superiority? He sulked and fought with Curry. The Detroit Free Press blogged that he was banned from two Detroit casinos for throwing chips at dealers and spitting at them and even trying to cheat. (The casinos, ever concerned about PR, deny that he was banned, and the Free Press took down the blog post, but the reporter who broke the story says now that he was privy to at least 15 people regaling him with stories of Iverson drunk and unbearable in casinos.) Iverson believes no NBA team wants him for a simple reason: Detroit general manager Joe Dumars put the word out that he was too much trouble. “I think that situation basically destroyed my NBA career,” he says. “I honestly believe that.”
I ask Iverson if he has a gambling problem. From his days with the Sixers, there are myriad stories of him dropping big money in A.C. at the Taj and Bally’s, getting drunk and being rude to dealers. The stories smack of him throwing his money around recklessly, even dangerously.