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On Point Guards, Mother Hens, and Allen Iverson

A few days ago there was talk here about Allen Iverson and the role of the point guard. A basketball journalist had ranked Iverson as the NBA's best point guard, and something about that rubbed me wrong.

I'm no Iverson-hater. I live close to Philadelphia. I've been something of a regular at Sixers games since the last millennium. I have a lot of friends and family who are Sixers fans, and I've watched a lot of Philadelphia games on TV. I am 100% on board that Allen Iverson is a supernaturally creative and inspired player. His fearlessness, relentlessness, and pain threshold are all off the charts. He's raw and genuine and it would give me great joy to see him win a championship. Iverson might be the great performer of the NBA.

But he does not embody what I consider to be the qualities of a point guard.

It's hard for me to explain why. Kevin Pelton made some great points in the comments of the above post: if you look at the facts and the figures, Iverson looks quite a lot like a good point guard.

I chewed on the idea over the weekend. What was my beef with the idea that Iverson might be the best point guard in the NBA?

Here's what I came up with. Think about any successful group: a business, a family, a sports team, an academic class, a boy scout troop... whatever. I believe that whether everyone in that group realizes it or not, in just about every single group that functions successfully, someone is adept at focusing on the needs of others. Someone's noticing who's pissed off, who's improving, who's hung over, who's getting old, who needs a rest--and adjusting accordingly. In families, it's a role that is very often played by the mother. On basketball teams, it's a role that is very often played by the point guard.

It's about noticing, reacting, guiding, and nurturing. It's listening, it's conducting, it's making harmony. It's about taking responsibility and all the caring, worrying, and praying that comes with it.

It's leadership. But it's not macho leadership.

In basketball, it's about knowing what's going on right now both on your team and the other team. It's about guiding the action in a way that will make the team succeed, one way or another--whether it makes you look good or not.

I associate that kind of leadership with the point guard position. There have been teams where it came from other spots. But team basketball is about ball movement and on-the-spot decision making--and the point guard is the person who moves the ball and makes the decisions. So it's a natural place for it.

As I said, I have seen Iverson play quite a lot. And I have never noticed him to be especially good at this kind of leadership I am long-windedly trying to describe. I would need some more convincing of that. His attempts to cheer up or comfort teammates seem to be well-meaning, but not integral to his identity. He is a great cheerleader except those times when he's not in the mood. His talks to the media about his teammates are sometimes uninspired.

I'm trying to remember if I have ever seen him guide a big run in which he was not one of the main scorers.

This selfless point guard gig--in any group--it often isn't about starring. It's about conducting the orchestra, which is hard to do if you're the lead soloist too. And to me, Iverson is one of the finest soloists in the league. He might be an OK conductor, too. But to hand him the conductor award at this stage of his career, I'm just not ready for that.