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Where Have You Gone, Allen Iverson?

Allen Iverson looks on from the bench during a Jan 2010 game in Milwaukee

I remember cheering for Allen Iverson for years as a Sixers fan, despite constant disappointment at the mercurial star who talked a big game, but seemed too small and fragile to consistently back it up. With all of the new stars emerging, Iverson seems to have simply faded away. Too proud to accept that his diminished skills and increased age meant he would have to be a role player if he was to continue cashing paychecks in the league. Over at SB Nation, Bomani Jones offers his take on the latest news regarding Iverson. Iverson’s money seems to be dwindling, if not gone. His life outside of basketball seems likely to be a sad and tragic tale. Here is Jones’ take on the present and future of the one-time superstar.

The older I got, the clearer it became that A.I. was going about things all wrong. The braids were a lot cooler in 2001 than ‘09, especially since they were worn by someone 26, not 34. The one-man offense was more defensible when that man, at the very least, was a capable NBA starter. He maxed out what he could do through force of personality and little else. His aging body needed a nuanced game that he hadn’t picked up. His ego needed to be commensurate with his diminishing skills to find a place. And he needed to see, clearly, that he was losing basketball, which was the linchpin that held together everything he had.

Now, it’s gone. So are his wife and family and, apparently, much of his money. He’s no longer a star, not even at the Atlanta watering holes he frequents. We only hear about him when the cops are impounding his Lamborghini or creditors are beating down his door. After being so much, good and bad, to so many, Allen Iverson is a 36-year-old retiree. He is a nobody.

Does he have any fight left in him? We will find out soon. He may be finished as a basketball player, but he can’t be finished as a man, if he ever was one. He’s done too much, been too far and proven himself to be too strong. Right?

He seems totally unprepared for his greatest challenge: life. Iverson was tossed out of high school. He dropped out of college. Not even the gods of irony are funny enough to make A.I. a coach. He’s demonstrated no interest in any activity meant to be performed 40 hours per week. In the most significant ways, he is alone. And there’s no reason to think any of this will get any better.

Four years ago, he averaged 26.4 points per game. Two years later, as a free agent, his irrelevance was impossible to ignore. He wasn’t even on the backburner. He was in the fridge, cold and past his expiration date. Only running backs and radioactive isotopes decay that fast.

The game hadn’t just passed him by. The Game, the macro-level stuff about basketball and branding that The Answer could never be bothered with, were way beyond him. The suits he didn’t want to wear, not his t-shirts and du-rags, were in style. The superstars of the day bore little resemblance to the anti-hero who directly preceded them in the limelight.

Now, it’s as if he was never here. His most lasting imprint is the NBA’s dress code, a measure taken to erase some of Iverson’s cultural influence. He has a lifetime contract with Reebok, but he’ll never be the Jordan-like icon whose brand power could sell shoes forever. Each of his employers was ready for him to go when he left. The Sixers will retire his jersey, and he’ll surely be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Sadly, it might be best-case scenario if we never hear from him beyond those nights.

He went from nothing to the world, and now Allen Iverson may be back to nothing again. Literally, figuratively and tragically.

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