Earlier this week, Allen Iverson said he doesn't think he'll be on the U.S. Olympic Team in 2004 in Athens. "I have heard a lot of names of people who should be picked for the team, and mine is never mentioned," he said.
Iverson's right. His name is never mentioned. Shaq's is. Kobe's is. Jason Kidd's is. Tracy McGrady's; Ray Allen's; Kevin Garnett's; Tim Duncan's. Not Iverson's -- at least not positively.
"Anybody in their right mind who has seen me play for seven years knows that wouldn't be fair," Iverson said.
Allen Iverson should be on our Olympic team.
Here's the list of basketball players in the whole world who are better than Iverson: Shaq and Kobe. That's it, that's the list. And nobody -- nobody -- is more exciting to watch.
In 1992, a terrible mistake was made when Isiah Thomas was left off the one and only Dream Team. At that time there were only three NBA players with greater credentials than Isiah's: Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. Nobody else on that team had a claim even equal to Isiah's. But Isiah was passed over because certain influential players on that team didn't like him, and didn't want to play with him. I've always believed Chuck Daly, the Olympic coach -- and Isiah's own coach with the Pistons -- didn't fight hard enough to put Isiah on that team in Barcelona.
I hope Larry Brown doesn't allow that to happen to Iverson in Athens.
Here's the rap against Iverson as a player: He's selfish; he throws too many 9 for 29s and 11 for 35s. Here's the answer to that: Larry Brown has constructed a team around Iverson. Iverson has never been a good shooter; what he is, is a great scorer. For all his 11 for 35s, two years ago he lifted the Sixers on his back and lugged them all the way to the NBA Finals. Nobody understands Iverson's skills better than Brown. Iverson is selfish with Brown's endorsement. It's Brown who painted this portrait out of necessity; nobody else on the Sixers can grab a game by the throat. Surrounded by great players why wouldn't Iverson flourish as a great teammate? Wasn't he named MVP of the All-Star Game at MCI two years ago? Isn't that proof how he plays when he's in elite company?
The more damaging rap against Iverson is what happens with him off the court. For most of his life trouble seems to have courted Iverson. We're all privy to his repeated missteps. We know all about Iverson missing practice and writing unsavory rap lyrics and getting arrested. We know all about his posse, and we've all seen his defiance. You get nothing like that from Tim Duncan and Ray Allen.
But are we sending our best players, or only our best players who are model citizens? After the hideous embarrassment of our performance this summer in the world championships in Indianapolis, can we afford to ignore Iverson?
(At this point there's almost nothing Iverson can do without feeling some backlash. Just the other day at a news conference Iverson wore a throwback replica of Bill Russell's No. 6 Celtics jersey, and the radio talk-show mob went crazy about how Iverson was disrespecting Philadelphia by wearing the jersey of its hated rival. "Everyone was getting on me, saying Wilt Chamberlain would be turning over in his grave," Iverson said, adding that by wearing Russell's jersey he was showing him respect -- and he'd have done the same for Larry Bird and John Havlicek! I thought it refreshing that Iverson would have so much respect for old-school players such as Havlicek and Bird. But almost on cue Philadelphians went ballistic. It's like there's some self-appointed task force out there that suspects everything Iverson does.)
Here's a modest suggestion: Give Iverson a chance. First of all, Iverson isn't the only potential Olympian who has sullied his name. Jason Kidd, who will surely be on the team, had a domestic abuse situation a few years ago, which he faced head on and appears to have overcome; Chris Webber, whose name is regularly mentioned as a possible Olympian, is under federal indictment for lying to a grand jury.
So go to Iverson and tell him: "If you play on this Olympic team, you will be representing the United States. You'll be playing outside this country, and if you screw up it's going to be terribly embarrassing for us and for you. You're not just famous, Allen, you're notorious. And because of everything people have heard about you, you're going to be under the brightest light. Folks are going to be waiting for you to mess up. They'll slam you, and they'll slam us for taking you.
"You're going to be asked to adhere to a code of conduct more stringent than anything you have faced before. No gangsta-sheik, no posse, no Escalade, no sipping Cristal through your own personal straw. You have to live in the Olympic Village, you have to go to practices and you've got to be on your best behavior. Do you think you can do it, and do you want to do it?"
And if Allen Iverson says yes, put him on our Olympic team. Nobody will play harder.