NBA / Sep 9, 2009 / 3:46 pm

Unfinished Business: What Memphis means for Allen Iverson

Allen Iverson

Allen Iverson

Eighteen years too late, I watched Pistol: The Birth of a Legend for the first time this summer. Mostly the story of Pete Maravich‘s teenage years, partly a ball-handling instructional tape, the movie came to mind when I found out Allen Iverson was signing with the Memphis Grizzlies.

In Pistol, Maravich is a middle-school prodigy playing on a high school varsity team where the coach doesn’t like his style (too “Black”) and the older players don’t like him for being so good so young. Glued to the bench despite his talent, Pete just wants a chance to play, and when he finally gets it, predictably becomes a superstar and leads the team to glory. Ultimately, all that time he spent not playing was a colossal waste of time rooted in old-school values and silly stubbornness.

This is how the Iverson-to-Memphis scenario has played itself out so far. The Grizzlies only get better by signing Iverson, both on the court and at the cash registers. They stink and they don’t have any money; Iverson gives them a backcourt upgrade and he’ll sell a ton of jerseys and t-shirts and bobbleheads. It’s really a no-brainer, which made this whole review process of acting like Memphis was in a position to not take on A.I. look increasingly comical the longer it went.

This isn’t an on-the-verge title team we’re talking about with a small margin for error. As good as Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo and Marc Gasol could be as the Grizzlies’ core, you know at least one of them, probably two, are bolting town ASAP, and the Grizzlies will never be a championship threat until they’re willing and able to spend championship money. So this whole idea of Iverson potentially ruining their future is and always was bullshit. If anything, the only hesitation Memphis had would be actually spending another $3.5 million, and wondering if A.I. would bring them bad publicity.

Iverson, like young Pistol Pete, just needs a platform to prove himself. He was treated like Michael Vick on the free agent market because of his own reputation as a killer: of coaches, of chemistry, of the development of young players. And because you’re only as good as your last game in the NBA, most of that rep stemmed from the Detroit disaster. The Pistons got alarmingly worse after trading Chauncey Billups for A.I., their coach (Michael Curry) got fired after the season, and supposed-to-be stars like Rodney Stuckey didn’t seem to get any better with A.I. around.

In Memphis, Iverson has his opportunity prove he can play within a system and help youngsters like O.J. and Rudy on their path to stardom. (Even better if A.I. could help Mike Conley hone his incredible handle into something useful during games.) If you’re an Iverson fan, you don’t want The Answer to average 25 points a night while the Grizzlies win 20 games; you want A.I. to get about 16 points and 8 assists while the Grizzlies win closer to 35-40 games. You don’t want any “practice” incidents or beefs with coach Lionel Hollins. You want the Grizzlies to make an inspiring run at the playoffs, while A.I. gets all the credit for bringing a “culture change” similar to KG in Boston a couple years back.

Allen Iverson

Iverson got a bad rap for what happened in Detroit. Remember, A.I. came into ’08-09 as the NBA’s third-leading scorer, having averaged 26.4 ppg the season before with Denver. And he did that while shooting 19.0 field goals per game, well below his typical Sixers season where he’d fire up 23-27 shots a night to get his 30 points. In his second-to-last game with Denver, Iverson dropped 25 points on the Clippers on 19 shots. So it’s not like he lost his game on the flight from Denver to Detroit. As he showed throughout his Pistons tenure, he can still get it done: 30 points vs. Sacramento in November, 38 vs. Utah in December, 31 vs. San Antonio in February, plus six other games of 25-plus points. Contrary to what you might’ve heard, Allen Iverson wasn’t bad last year. He just landed in a terrible situation where certain teammates weren’t willing to accept his arrival, his coach didn’t know what to do with him, he had some injuries, and he just didn’t mix with his new team.

While going to the Grizzlies is admittedly a case of Iverson running out of options and simply taking what he can get, the signing does in a way represent a first step in Iverson proving he’s not an insufferable diva. How many 34-year-old former MVPs and future Hall of Famers would accept a $17 million pay cut to play for one of the worst teams in the League? (Not to mention a team on which he may be asked to come off the bench?) At this age and stage of their careers, most players like Iverson either demand more money than they’re worth, or only want to play for a contender. They don’t settle for less on both fronts. Iverson didn’t say one word about “I need to play for a ring.” He didn’t refuse to come off the bench. He didn’t hold out to demand a lifetime appreciation contract.

Both sides win here, but Iverson ultimately has more to gain, and more to lose. The Grizzlies were headed to the Lottery without A.I., and will most likely be in the Lottery again with him. Either way, they’ll make some money off the deal and get some mainstream exposure.

Iverson will either self-sabotage his career in Memphis, or he’ll change people’s opinions of him. If he does the latter, he’ll go into next summer as a 35-year-old free agent able to find a proper way to play out his last games. It could be in Philadelphia. It could be with a contender in L.A. or Boston or Cleveland. It could be with a random team like Houston or Dallas.

However it works out, next summer should be better than this summer. Iverson at least deserves that, but he’s got to earn it first.

* Follow Austin Burton on Twitter: @AustinatDIMEmag

* Follow Dime on Twitter: @DIMEMag

* Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE

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  • jiggaman

    iverson is like pete maravich… at this stage in both their careers, they’re both old dogs who can no longer learn new tricks

  • dagwaller

    I already posted my thoughts on this deal in general in the “Breaking News” post, but I just want to add that at least in the short term, this deal should at least make the Grizz some money (jerseys sold, more tickets sold, and more wins) and some more fans (management willing to bring in a quality vet/star). The Bobcats really should have signed him, too.

  • Patrick Cassidy

    Good stuff AB – would love to see A.I. prove to everyone that he’s still got it.

  • Notorious

    Just like Brett Favre, this is simply a case of playing the media. AI is saying all the right things (like he always does) and doing the right things (for now). But lurking just below the surface is a giant, unfillable hole of an ego. Just another selfish, me first player unable to accept he has lost a step or two.

    Wants a system built around him, his terrible shot selection and his gambling defensive game. Hopefully Memphis can at least get some jersey sales and other merchandise, because teamwork, selflessnes, and practice are all sold seperately. Chris Wallace must really want that title of Worst GM in basketball pretty badly, even with a big lead he is still working on it.

    Epic Failure in the making, AI should have just hung them up after the Detroit disaster.

  • ProphetGK

    Thank you…

  • ProphetGK

    @Notorious… get a life…

  • Kobeef

    For fcuk’s sake.

    Can we please go a day without a story about AI?
    Hell, I’d be happy with less than a story an hour.

  • control

    Kobeef beat me to the punch line.

    Damn, ANOTHER story about AI. This guy is getting worse than that Ricky Rubio kid (anyone remember him?) who used to get 60-70% of all basketball articles wrote on em.

    I bet AI has an award somewhere for height to redundant basketball articles about him ratios…

  • Alee-Mo

    @Kobeef and @control —

    So it’s the slow part of the offseason, one of the most popular players EVER just signed with a new team, and you guys want articles about … Kevin Ollie? Marvin Williams? Ronny Turiaf? Jamario Moon? Surely you can understand why there’s a lot of Iverson columns on Dime and every other hoops site.

  • control


    It’s called consolidation son. Don’t need to have 10 different articles all saying the same thing. Yeah, he’s washed up and doesn’t have anything left in the tank. Yeah, he’s probably going to ruin some young talent, it’s what he’s good at. Yeah he will jack 20 shots in 20 minutes to get 20 points (and think that he just got a triple 20). Everyone knows this…no need to keep explaining it.

  • Alee-Mo

    @control — Except this article didn’t say any of that. In fact, it seemed to say the exact opposite. Did you even read it?

  • control


    I don’t know if I could quite say I ‘read’ it, more like ‘browsed’ it before coming to comments section to troll it.

    Be so kind as to give me a brief summary if you would…as long as it says something other than the points I highlighted above.

  • That’s whats Up

    what it really means is a per game check of $42,682.93

    AI knows that

  • Lee

    He messed up by missing the christmas practice in Detroit, and then wondering why Rip was pissed when he was benched.

  • http://twitter.com/PoppiGEE POPPI GEE

    See this is what I am talking about! A.I. ain’t the dark cloud so many make dude out to be. Thanks for bringing that light AB.

    I think A.I. is going to be on, and then you gonna see cats jumpin all on the wagon or either trying to find something else they can use to further a horrid case of why A.I. isn’t good.


    LOL this is Memphis folks..A.I. won’t make them worst. Some need to holla at Rudy Gay and O.J. to step up!

  • sh!tfaced

    never thought i’d consider buying a memphis grizzlies jersey… but now that AI’s there…

  • Ashlov

    Adding Z-Bo was bad enough, this just guarantees all sorts of drama. At least Mayo will learn to roll a tight blunt.

  • LakeShow84

    @ Kobeef & Control

    Come guys.. ITS A SLOW OFFSEASON..


  • LakeShow84

    Lol @ 17..

    Good one.. always a good skill to learn..

  • Mack Brownee

    smh philly should have went after ai when they lost a-mil..I hope he does great things in the M!

  • S-SiN

    Detroit now behind him, nice to see him finally get on the roster. I hope he has a redeem year this time around. and yeah it would be better if he didn’t turn the ball over a lot and averaged 8+ assists instead of gunning to be one of the Leagues top scorers. also, if AI intends on playing major minutes he needs to get Rudy and OJ the rock in 1st half as much as possible to have wind in 4th quarter. I strongly believe that he still good years left in him, he just needs to prove himself in this one bad.


    Tight joke!

  • V

    THANK YOU for writing this piece THANK YOU!

  • zcw

    I have three A.I. jerseys in my closet and I can still see that this article is bullsh*t. He’s not harping about getting a ring because no contender WANTED him. It wasn’t as if we’re in the beginning of free agency and he was all “naw Boston, naw LA, I’m going to Memphis to hang with 36 mafia and some guy who grabs his balls when he shoots free throws” So what if he’s going to the Hall of Fame, it says something when every team says no, I mean Rasheed Wallace got signed and he gives up on half of his games.

  • Fallodaldr

    Another b.s. article by Austin Burton. A.I. refused to make sacrifices to play on a team that was full of veterans/winners. His “injury” happened to occur just as he was told he would be comming off the bench. Nobody on the Pistons wanted to accept him after that shit. Also, AI’s 26ppg in Denver was because it was a run and gun offense with no team concept or defense. All this love for AI when he is the epitome of selfishness. He has never been about winning…it’s stats first, winning second. How can half of NBA fans love AI and hate Kobe. No matter what you don’t like about Kobe, he has always put winning first, and thats what sports is about. Don’t get me wrong, AI is one of the most talented players we have ever seen, but so were Barkley, Tmac, and D. Wilkens. And they are all losers.


  • AB_40

    quick name one player who has developed from a young player to an all star playing next to AI?

    wait what… y’all have no names? realy?

    he can play basketball he can see things on the court and he Could do things on the court that other players couldn’t phantom of doing. Both in the game as in within an ofensive scheme which you can describe as mike brown his playbook in the offseason.

    What i’m trying to say is: you can’t ride shotgun with AI you gotta sit in the back of the car or in the trunk of the car to get him to play well and comfortable. he’s not a great shooter and his cutting abilities are fading with the years.

    Last year we saw the real AI not taking a backseat to nobody and because his coach sucked he didn’t just relegate him to the bench in a sixth man role in what he was SUPPOSED to bring to detroit. an updated version of the microwave. I hope he understads this sooner then later and signs on with a contender because it just seems like he enjoys playing for himself more then playing for a championship.

  • elaly

    he can still put up numbers for sure… he is going to prove that he can mesh just so he can get another deal next summer and hopefully get on a team with a chance to win…

    the media was the one that originally started talking about the whole bench controversy anyways… it wasnt AI going outta his way, giving interviews about it…

    he might even get traded mid-season…all i know is he can still ball…. ill put money on that… still 1 of the hardest guards out there to guard on any given nite

  • scotsman

    not sure i like this signing. i think there is a good chance that this move kills conley dead. he was starting to look good towards the end of last season and without some serious minutes this year, any development is gonna be lost.

  • Aaron

    The only thing I dislike about A.I. is when he pulled that bullshit last year with detroit saying that he would prefer to retire than come off the bench. Talent is one thing but he can go fuck himself with that attitude and just cause he’s on the Grizzlies that’s not going to change who he is as a person which is selfish.

  • BiG ShoT BoB

    @Fallodaldr….Ha the only thing AI did wrong was go to a Detroit Pistons team full of veteran’s that refused a change. As soon as they found out their fuck boy Chauncey Billups was getting traded they start crying like some little kids. Iverson never had a chance on that team. It kind of reminds me of that movie “Any Given Sunday” when all the o-line quit on Willie Beaman and start letting guys by them to give Willie the beating of his life. Accept in this instance it wasn’t because AI was acting like a Diva it was because they were trying to make a point to Joe Dumars. They flat out stopped playing for Iverson so he would look bad.

  • Mellmeister

    @29 Big Shot Bob

    That’s right… and good comparison of Any Given Sunday and A.I.’s drama… well, he should be able to make the youngstars of memphis bloom, and get dimes like he neva dished ‘em before….

  • malika

    NO ONE seems to Remember that the pistons had a 7 game winning streak with A.I. in the STARTING LINE-UP. Rip was out w/the groin injury, it wasn’t UNTIL Rip was ready to comeback and CURRY decided to BRING him OFF the BENCH,that the CRYBABIES (Prince, Rip, Wallance) started just GIVING UP GAMES. LOOK at the FG% last year(during winning streak AND after)

  • arisloco

    Fallodaldr says:

    “…Don’t get me wrong, AI is one of the most talented players we have ever seen, but so were Barkley, Tmac, and D. Wilkens. And they are all losers. ”

    WOW! You must be very good in playing basketball son. Wait until TMAC gets healthy and you’ll get the beating you will never forget. You must be drinking a lotta haterade for you to state those comments.