LeBron and Iverson: Big Nobodies
As LeBron James was grabbing the spotlight last week, I couldn’t help thinking about Allen Iverson.
The second James uttered “I’m taking my talents to South Beach,” he became a nobody.
A nobody to me at least, and I’m betting to lots of other people too.
Which is how I’ve felt about Iverson for some time now. But first LeBron James:
Through the recent NBA playoffs, my heart was with the Cavaliers. LeBron was the ultimate homeboy, the anti-Kobe with razor-sharp priorities, the guy who knew just where to park his affection. [SIGNUP]
But with those seven words, he became just another gazillionaire, an empty NBA suit destined to sip Rosé Champagne with profundity-deprived models in soulless roped-off Ocean Avenue VIP backrooms.
Suddenly, James was a guy—oh, like Jordan, or Kobe, or Tiger, or Alex Rodriguez—who long ago forgot what it felt like to be a teenager in love.
Worse, even as he spoke, James instantly knew what he’d done.
The poison in his words was etched all over his tortured face—as easy to read as the shock and awe Lindsay Lohan experienced just days earlier when she realized, wait, shit, I’m going to jail?
In stunning third-person shmuckeze, James cavalierly turned his back on a town that loved him unconditionally, that stood by him when he turned lily-livered in the playoffs, that saw in their “King” a reflection of the hopes they secretly harbored for themselves even in these worst of times.
Unconditional love is a trust few people get to experience, and LeBron James swatted it away as handily as he would a Samuel Dalembert put back. And just like that, immortality—the real deal kind, the kind that would have made him the subject of storytelling and the focus of the oral tradition through the ages—slipped through his giant hands.
Lost in all the LeBron James hoopla last week was word that Allen Iverson—remember him?—wants back in the NBA.
Even if an NBA front-office desperado was willing to roll dice on Iverson for old times sake, it would only bring the same familiar cycle of gloom: hope, disappointment, bouts of weirdness and, inevitably, a final puzzling disappearance.
Last chance redemption is calling Allen Iverson, and its name isn’t the NBA; it’s work—real work.
Nothing garners admiration in Philadelphia like hard work. Yes, Iverson was a warrior on the court, and yes, he sacrificed his body for the sake of winning.
True that, all that, and callers on Philadelphia sports radio will rightly and forever bestow props on the little guy for his on-court grit. We will not forget.
But then there’s the other Iverson: the gun-toting punk, the Palmer Club thug wannabe, the husband who humiliated his wife, the superstar who never gave back to the community that admired his hoop work most.
Could that become his lasting legacy?
If Iverson was ever in need of caring counsel—and was there ever a time when he wasn’t?—now is the most critical of times.
He could deep six the high life, and maybe launch a sports program for kids in his Virginia hometown, or better yet, in North Philadelphia. He could start a business, one he’d have to work and guide himself to assure success. He’s still a young guy with lots of time.
None of it would be easy, and nowhere near as lucrative as the NBA, and that’s the point.
Reinvention, at this stage in Allen Iverson’s career and life arc, is his path to salvation—hard work his only savior.
If he could manage that, and not quit on it, he could assure lasting affection.
Long ago, way back in the vintage Charles Barkley era, it was debated and decided: sports stars shouldn’t be our role models—that’s the job of parents.
Right. Agreed. Still, Americans worthy of admiration have always displayed the right combination of guts and heart, passion and decency, determination and loyalty.
Expect less from anybody, even our gazillionaire sports heroes, and the bar gets lowered for us all.
Tim Whitaker (firstname.lastname@example.org), a writer and editor, is the executive director of Mighty Writers.