It was impossible to take your eyes off of A.I. on the court, from the very second he stepped on to a loaded Georgetown team.
He came to the Big East when the conference was loaded with stars – Ray Allen at UConn, Kerry Kittles at Villanova – and outshone them all. He was drafted first overall, and almost immediately brought the moribund Philadelphia 76ers to respectability as a pint-sized dynamo of a scorer and defender. He was a Rookie of the Year and an MVP, one of the most electrifying superstars of the post-Jordan era – even dragging the 76ers to the NBA finals.
Yet, for as brilliant as he was on the court, he was the very definition of enigmatic off of it. There was the troubled childhood (detailed very well in the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary on Iverson) which included a controversial prison sentence after a brawl at a Virginia bowling alley, that he seemed to carry over into the NBA. He was busted for pot and gun possession, clashed with coaches, showed up late for practice, and recorded a rap single with homophobic lyrics that got him into hot water with the NBA and various groups. Despite his heavily-tattooed and street-wise image and speech, he could be thoughtful, entertaining and outright incisive in interviews. Of course, no one ever remembers those good moments – not after the infamous “practice” rant occurred, the beginning of the end to his tumultuous stay in Philly.
Recently, his life seems to have taken an even sadder turn – disturbing reports of drunken gambling binges and altercations at casinos around the nation, an awkward, financially-driven turn in the Turkish basketball league. His wife has reportedly filed for divorce, and he was revealed to be six figures in debt. Most recently a judge had to dip into his bank account to pay back a jeweler.
Needless to say, it’s all ugly for The Answer these days. He seems to be a lost soul without basketball in his life, as happens too often to too many marvelous athletes – Joe Namath is a good comparison. Let’s hope that A.I. gets right before he does some real harm to himself; the world is a lot more entertaining with him in it.