Fresh and rare
By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist

At the risk of sounding obvious, at the risk of understatement, I'll say this: Allen Iverson is interesting to watch.

Allen Iverson
Watching Allen Iverson contort his small body around bigger defenders is a beautiful thing.
His game is interesting.

He seems impossibly small, but he consistently manages to get himself open and regularly challenges players bigger and stronger than he is. He riffs and reacts, leans in and pops back, rubs off a shoulder, curls around a hip. Every shot looks unlikely and creative; every shot feels miraculous, like it's happening in some little pocket of space and time most other players never even see. There's an odd-angled, syncopated beauty about it. It's lay-ups and bank shots and heaves and fadeaways and up-and-unders. It's interesting.

His look is interesting.

The arm sleeve. The cornrows. The tattoos. The wrap around his left middle finger. The cut arms. The tiny ankles in black socks. Jersey and shorts just a little too big so they flow a little ahead of and a little behind him when he moves. Goateed chin slightly raised. Serious expression on his face. Towel draped over his head when he sits on the bench. Real anguish when something goes wrong on the court and real joy when he and his teammates are in the groove. Everything's done with flair. Some people love his style, some people hate it, but there's no denying, he has style.

His press conferences are very interesting.

That was amazing television Tuesday. I don't even know what I want to say about it, except that it captivated and moved me. I have no idea what Iverson and Brown's relationship is really like, and I don't have an opinion on who's right or about what should happen next between them. What fascinated me was the way Iverson seemed to speak from the heart and off the cuff in front of what he knew was a wide and often skeptical (or worse) audience.

I'm used to press conferences being fairly predictable events -- stock questions and canned answers. This was different. It felt unpredictable.

Allen Iverson
From the tattoos to the cornrows to the armbands, Iverson definitely has style.
I didn't get the sense that he knew what he wanted to say every minute of it, but it felt like he was out there, trying. Trying to figure out the difference between what he believed and what was true (about Brown and about himself), trying to decide what to hold onto and what to let go of, trying to express himself, to be understood, to protect himself, to declare things and ask things and argue things. He looked and sounded like a guy in the midst of something. He wasn't composed. He risked himself, risked sounding too hurt, too angry, too confused, too young, too hard.

I don't know what to make of it. Part of me thinks it was brave, part of me thinks it was naive, part of me thinks it was smart, part of me thinks it was reckless. But see, to evaluate it, I'm already stepping back and away from what made it so interesting, which is that it felt improvised -- not made-up-out-of-thin-air improvised, but the kind of improvisation that involves working and reworking crucial themes and phrases until you get them right, until you get them to say what you want to say, until they sound right to you, or until you think you've been heard.

Iverson stayed on that podium a long time Tuesday, and I kept thinking he was staying there because he was still working, because he needed the give-and-take of the press conference in some way.

I'm just guessing, and I could be wrong. I don't know why he did what he did. But I know it was fresh and rare. I know it made me think, and it made a typical press conference feel stiff and farcical by comparison. I know I appreciated and empathized with him, tried to imagine what he was thinking and feeling, and I don't think I would or could have done that if he hadn't put himself out there like he did.

I don't love everything I see in Allen Iverson. If he asked, I'd tell him his rap lyrics read like a mean, ignorant front to me. If he asked me, I'd tell him I think he should pass more, use his quickness and uncanny feel for space to distribute as well as shoot, and, if he asked, I'd probably say I think practice is a good thing, and team unity is a real thing, and he ought to suck it up and be there every day.

So far, he hasn't asked.

Larry Brown's said before, and he said again Wednesday, that Allen's young, that he's maturing. He's said Allen has a good heart that sometimes gets carried away. I think I know what he means; Iverson is young, he does have things to learn -- we all do. But I wouldn't want to dismiss or explain away what happened at Iverson's press conference Tuesday by saying it was impetuous, or by making it seem that he's just a "kid" who can't help himself.

I think it was more interesting than that. In fact, I think it was more impressive than that. I think it was the kind of thing that pointed out how scripted and out-of-touch people usually are, even when they're dealing with each other face-to-face, and I think it was the kind of thing that reminded us that players and coaches are just people trying to figure out what they think and feel and how to be with each other. Like Brown, like any of us, Iverson's a jumble, a work-in-progress. Like precious few of us, he put that work on display, made himself vulnerable.

I thought that was interesting.

Eric Neel reviews sports culture in his "Critical Mass" column, which will appear every Wednesday on Page 2. You can e-mail him at



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Going Public
Allen Iverson and Larry Brown go tit-for-tat on the issues in question.
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