By Paul M. Banks
In his 2004 hit “Heart of a Champion”, a hip-hop song with more sports references than any in history (it also appropriately sampled the ’90s “NBA on NBC” theme song in its beat), Nelly rapped: Can’t stop me from scoring so they resort to just hacking. So there’s, three of us now – me, A.I. and Shaq’n. But this isn’t 2004 anymore, and Allen Iverson is now just a shell of what he once was. Plain and simple- his best days are far behind him.
Allen Iverson averages about 27 points a game for his career. This year he’s averaging under 15. He’s also averaging two assists and rebound less this season than he has during his storied career. No doubt he was great once, but today those days seem like a long time ago. On the night I caught up to him, the Milwaukee Bucks held him to 3-10 shooting and just 6 points. A.I. refused to talk to the media after the game. He didn’t give a reason, he just simply stated that he had nothing to say to the media.
So I listened to what his opponents, who effectively shut him down on this night, had to say. One of which was Bucks’ rookie Brandon Jennings who looked up to A.I. as a youth.
“Can honestly say that I actually got a chance to play against my idol, did a pretty good job I guess the little time I did have on him,” Jennings said before mentioning the impact Iverson had on the league. “Cornrows back then, kinda like the first person to bring in tattoos…everyone was a MJ fan, but I liked A.I. because he was my size and I felt like if he could do it, I could do it.”
Jennings certainly outplayed Iverson on this night, as he tied with Charlie Bell for the team lead with 18 points.
Bell got the better end of Iverson on both ends of the floor. He spoke about how he shut down A.I. “I just wanted to put it on my shoulders to keep us in the game, and I was able to do that. It’s not too often that I have the height advantage, usually I’m smaller than the other team’s two guard, so I knew if I made my move and got my shot off, I just came out with more confidence,” Bell said about his three inch height advantage on A.I.
Iverson is a 34-year-old, 13-year pro with a NBA resume about as impressive as it gets. If he scores just 700 more points this season, he’ll become just the 16th player in NBA history to reach the 25,000 career point plateau. No one can ever take that way from him.
However, the left knee arthritis, the left shoulder contusions, his age, the aches and pains accumulated from over a decade of doing the NBA 82 game grind and more have caught up to him. When A.I. pulled a Favre this winter by retiring/not really retiring, I knew it was a story that wasn’t even close to warranting the coverage ESPN and company bestowed upon it. I knew he was coming back, and I knew that when he did, his play wouldn’t be that special. And his production on the court is proving me right.