No Answer for No "Answer"

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 7, 2006; 1:15 PM

Go down the list of the all the words. Insulting. Embarrassing. Disrespectful. Shameful. Inexplicable. They all are correct when describing Allen Iverson's omission from the list of 23 players who will vie for a spot on what should be, in theory, the world's best basketball team.

Jerry Colangelo, the Phoenix Suns executive and managing director of the United States Men's National Team, got it wrong when he chose not to extend Iverson one of the invitations to the tryouts in Las Vegas this summer. No argument about keeping out Iverson makes sense.

USA Basketball decided to ditch the Dream Team theme following recent disappointments in international competition -- including finishing third in the Athens Olympics in 2004 and sixth in the world championships in Indianapolis -- but that doesn't mean that Iverson should be sacrificed in the process. And, really, what's so wrong with selecting an all-star team? Superior talent should win in the end, and people tend to forget that an overstocked team with Iverson, Tim Duncan, Tracy McGrady, Jason Kidd and Ray Allen, among others, went 10-0 and won the gold medal at the FIBA Americas Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Puerto Rico.

The U.S. wasn't represented by its best talent in Athens or Indianapolis. Those teams were strictly the best talents available. Send the B-team or C-team, expect mediocre results. This time, most of the league's superstars were lining up for the opportunity to restore the nation's golden glory.

The selection committee chose seven of the eight leading scorers in the NBA, but Colangelo said it left off Iverson because the team needed distributors. Iverson ranks eighth in the league in assists -- just ahead of Seattle's Luke Ridnour, whose selection to the team should have created just as much of an uproar as Iverson's exclusion (Side note: What special skills is Ridnour supposed to bring? He's a role player with no apparent role. He's not a good three-point shooter -- 26 percent this season -- and he isn't one of the top 10 point guards in the league).

Iverson's age has been used as an excuse. True, Iverson will be 33 when the Beijing Olympics are played in 2008, but Bruce Bowen will be 37, Chauncey Billups and Antawn Jamison will be 32, so age isn't a legitimate argument to keep him out. Plus, Iverson has yet to slow down.

Iverson is not without his flaws, but he is one of just two NBA players -- along with Dwyane Wade -- who rank in the top 10 in scoring and assists. Kobe Bryant, the league's leading scorer, ranks 28th in assists.

Some like to say Iverson is a symptom of what has ailed basketball in this country in recent years -- the me-first star that likes the pound the ball, take all of the shots and receive all of the glory. But for the people who argue that Iverson is selfish, what makes Iverson worse than Bryant, who leads the NBA in shot attempts per game? Coach Mike Krzyzewski said the team will be built around Bryant, but Bryant has never taken the Lakers to the playoffs without Shaquille O'Neal. Iverson has taken limited Philadelphia teams to the postseason for most of his career, including guiding the 76ers to the NBA Finals in 2001. Bryant undoubtedly belongs on the team -- that's not even worth debating -- but so does Iverson, a former league's most valuable player, a four-time league scoring champion closing in an fifth and a seven-time all-star. Outside of Shaquille O'Neal and Duncan, Iverson has been arguably the most dominant player in the league over the past decade. He has few peers, if any, at the guard position. That sort of production should be rewarded, never shunned.

Six members of the 2004 Olympic bronze medal team -- Wade, LeBron James, Shawn Marion, Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Lamar Odom - were invited back but Iverson was the player who truly embodied the American spirit at the Athens Olympics, offering much-needed perspective and appreciation for the opportunity. He may have been late for a practice or two, but he was not the problem. He didn't gripe about shots or playing time, didn't bump heads (too much) with Larry Brown. Iverson was Captain America; he actually wanted to be there and took the losses hard.

Not to be forgotten, Iverson and Duncan were the only superstars who kept their commitment to that team when Kidd, Bryant, Allen, McGrady, Karl Malone, Jermaine O'Neal and Mike Bibby backed out for various reasons. Elton Brand, Vince Carter, Kenyon Martin, Kevin Garnett, Richard Hamilton and Ben Wallace rejected the invitations.

While in Athens, Iverson played with his typically unyielding passion, despite a fractured bone in his right thumb. He was anything but a ball hog, and his shooting spared American from a more embarrassing result. Iverson is the rare player who actually wants to represent the country with pride. He said he felt obligated to represent the U.S. because of the opportunity this nation provided him to make ridiculous amounts of money and change the fortunes of his family for generations. He got it. Iverson absorbed the bashing, swallowed the humiliating defeat and wanted another chance to right the wrong in Athens. Instead, he was given the cold shoulder while Duncan, who infamously told the world that "FIBA [stinks]" after the Olympics, was asked back -- and declined.

This team is talented enough to win with or without Iverson, but he should've at least been given the opportunity to compete. If he misses out on making the final roster of 12, then fine. But Iverson has earned the right to be there, not only because of his past with USA Basketball but because he remains at the top of his game although he's a few months shy of his 31st birthday. He deserved better.

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