Allen Iverson has delivered on his promise and taken the Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA Finals. No matter what happens at the end of this season, it will be a watershed year for Iverson and one that may mark the second, and winning, phase of his career. But does anyone remember the beginning of the season? The previously tormented Sixers and Iverson and coach Larry Brown are in the finals. But how much has changed from last fall?
Now, I don't want to come down too hard on Iverson. Still, we're just so quick to fall in love with someone who has had some adversity and then some success. We immediately conclude that they've changed.
Does Iverson give every ounce of every inch of his body on every single play? Yes. For that he should be lauded.
Last summer and fall, the Sixers were on the precipice of becoming a professional sports cliché. The talented player(s), talented coach, caring and nurturing owner were all in place, but the team seemed headed for disaster. Iverson and Brown could not get on the same page. Iverson was late for meetings and practices. He could not find the weight room with a map. His diet and overall approach to fitness was questioned.
There was a lot of friction and open talk of a trade. Then you heard that Brown wanted to leave. Then Iverson puts out a CD that contained some offensive lyrics. Back then, Sixers talk was not about basketball.
It seemed that Iverson was going to have to change a few things about himself and his approach to the game, to the profession. The foundation, of course, was that he was a truly great player who could do whatever his team needed on the floor. It was all the other stuff that had to be fixed for the Sixers to gel as an organization and take off.
In the end, you have to give Allen Iverson some credit. I think he finally looked at this as a job instead of an adventure. It's a job and he finally started treating it that way. Nobody wants to practice on a cold Saturday morning in January, but guess what? You have to do it and he did without complaint. What I loved about it is that he knew there were questions and he (caution: pun ahead) Answered.
He truly Answered when he had to. He toed the team line in the regular season. He won game after game and played by the team rules. And in the postseason, he kept it up. When the Sixers lost the first game in the opening round in Indiana, he scored 45 in the next game. He scored 50 points twice against the Raptors and he goes for 44 in the clincher in Game 7 against the Bucks. He just seemed to do whatever he needed to do. On the court.
|Allen Iverson has averaged 32.1 ppg in the playoffs after leading the league with 31.1 during the regular season.|
He grew up before our eyes -- he's still 6 feet tall -- but I think he really did grow. It took him a long time to literally and figuratively embrace Larry Brown. I think that was the key that he turned into an olive branch; he knew Brown was on his side.
Why fight it when you both have the same goals? Championships and the legitimacy they bestow on any player who wants to be called great.
Allen Iverson didn't all of a sudden become a different person, although his handling of the midseason theft charges against John Croce was remarkably mature, thoughtful and sensitive. He simply remained a great basketball player.
So has Iverson grown up that quickly? I don't know. But to say that he's become a fully formed, enlightened young man would be incorrect. To say that he remained a great basketball player through all of this would be absolutely correct. But displaying heart and soul on a basketball court doesn't mean that you've changed as a person. Iverson had 90 points over the final two games in the conference finals. Does he give you every ounce of every inch of his body on every single play? Yes. For that he should be lauded.
Still, I get the feeling that Iverson has work left to do. His courageous style of play would benefit from some more bulk on his frame. That would come from the weight room and the training table. That would be work. That would require discipline. That would be new stuff for Allen Iverson. But the success his team has achieved this year could be just the catalyst for Iverson to continue his growth.
He's already taken the hardest step. The first one.