When my Clippers season tickets arrive every October, I grab the accompanying schedule, head over to our kitchen calendar and write down the following nine teams and their corresponding dates on the schedule:
CELTS, CAVS, SUNS, SPURS, MAVS, LAKERS, MIAMI, MINNESOTA, PHILLY.
Even back in his Georgetown days, everyone knew AI would be a star.Those are the only must-see Clipper opponents for me. Two of the teams are self-explanatory: Boston (my favorite team) and Cleveland (LeBron, who's worth seeing even if he might coast through the game). The other seven teams feature players who can't be fully appreciated until you see them live: Duncan (the consummate pro), Dirk (one of a kind), KG (criminally intense), Kobe (the best scorer alive), Nash (the perfect offensive point guard), Wade (the closest thing to MJ since MJ) and Iverson (for reasons about to be explained).
With those seven players, your ticket guarantees you a professional, first-class performance, no different than reservations at a particularly good restaurant or hotel. They always deliver the goods. Always. Now it looks like one of them might be switching teams: Iverson, the relentless Philly scorer who could be shipped out of town as soon as today. Three Saturdays ago, I watched him finish 12-for-31 in an overtime loss to the Clips, hampered by Quinton Ross' defense and an atrocious group of teammates who couldn't assume any of the scoring burden. You could tell it was only a matter of time. He was going to snap at some point.
Know what else? He still played his ass off. Breathtaking to watch as always, Iverson remains the quickest guard on the planet, one of the few who routinely draws "oohs and ahhs" from the Staples Center crowd. Although he's noticeably smaller in person (no taller than 5-foot-11), Iverson attacks the basket in waves, almost like an undersized running back ramming into the line of scrimmage for four or five yards a pop (think Emmitt Smith). He takes implausible angles on his drives -- angles that can't be seen as they're unfolding, even if you've been watching him for 10 years -- and drains an obscene number of layups and floaters in traffic. And he still plays with a "f--- you!" intensity that only KG and Kobe can match (although MJ remains the king of this category). There isn't a more intimidating player in the league.
Yup, even after 10 punishing seasons, even on an off-night slumming for a crappy team, Allen Iverson is still worth seeing. And now that he's about to be traded -- about six months too late, by the way -- I've been astonished by the lack of respect for his abilities in so many written and spoken reports. Writers and talking heads keep painting Iverson as a past-his-prime, banged-up head case who can't guard anyone, a significant risk with sizable baggage, someone who's too selfish to coexist with quality players. There's a generational twinge to the anti-Iverson coverage, pushed by media folks in their 40s, 50s and 60s who can't understand his generation and don't seem interested in trying. Most media members would rather mention his infamous aversion to practice (overrated over the years) above describing the incredible thrill of seeing him in person.