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The Life


Who's the thug?
ESPN The Magazine

So we hear Allen Iverson had his pocket picked, allegedly by the boss's brother no less. We hear that John Croce, younger brother of 76ers millionaire team president Pat Croce, is accused of stealing money out of Allen Iverson's oversized jeans. Stealing it when Iverson wasn't in the locker room. Stealing it when everyone assumed Iverson was the thug around here.

Sometimes, appearances are so, so wrong. Allen Iverson has the 22 tattoos and the vulgar mouth, but now it looks like a white man may have rifled through his clothes, and made off with over a thousand dollars, and Allen Iverson let him off the hook. Iverson could've fried him. He could have prosecuted him, and he probably would've won, because the team says there's a videotape. But Allen Iverson showed mercy on this white man, partly because he has affection for the white man's brother and partly because he's not as mean-spirited as you think.

I bring up skin color because you have to bring up skin color. I bring it up because, in a recent feature for The Magazine, I wrote that Iverson, on his way to scoring 40 points this season on Utah's John Stockton, told the Jazz guard, "No [bleeping] white boy is ever gonna stop me." People took that a lot of different ways, which is their prerogative, but I took it as, when Iverson gets between the lines, he's vicious. And I take this John Croce incident to mean, when Iverson's not between the lines, he is not vicious.

He would have had every right to call the police. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, several 76er players had complained as far back as the 1999-2000 season that they were missing money. That raises the possibility that Croce may be a repeat offender. If that's the case, it's downright pitiful, because the locker room is supposed to be a safe haven for these players, a place where they shouldn't have to bring along a lock and key.

Of course, Iverson was an easy victim because he always carries thousands of dollars of cash with him, preferring that over credit cards. He does it so he can be generous with his friends and family, and he should not be ashamed of that. Instead, he just needs a safety deposit box.

It's strange because, when I was a baseball writer, I remember players giving their gold wristwatches and their money clips to a team official, who would then stash them in a lockbox. But Iverson trusted too much, perhaps. Never thought a smiling face would do such a thing.

Meanwhile, I just cannot get the image of John Croce out of my head. I know his past. I know that he has degrees from St. Joseph's University and West Chester University and that he's followed in his older brother's footsteps and become the 76er strength coach. I know that he and his brothers were raised by a domineering father who used to slap them around, and I know he has a wife and a family. I mean, I spent some time with him. I met him in December, when I first started working the Iverson story, and he was forthcoming. He has a pleasant face and a wisp of blond-reddish hair, and I asked him to do an interview about who else but Allen Iverson.

I asked him if he could confirm a couple of anecdotes I'd heard about Iverson, and he shared one with me. He told me that Iverson had sold his house to teammate Matt Geiger and that when Geiger moved in, he found a Mercedes left behind in the garage and brand-new Timberland boots in a front bedroom and cash lying around on the rug. John Croce then told me that people in the organization used to call Iverson and his mother "the Beverly Hillbillies" because they had so much cash and no idea what to do with it.

And so that's all I thought about when I heard the awful news: TOO MUCH CASH AND NO IDEA WHAT TO DO WITH IT. And it made me go "Hmmmmm."

That's all. Hmmmm.

Tom Friend is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at tom.friend@espnmag.com.



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