Every good story needs a villain. We need an antagonist, otherwise there’s no conflict, no plot, no juice to the tale. Rainbows don’t come into being without storm clouds. Batman has no purpose without the disarray caused by the Joker. Odysseus has a swift, safe, and uneventful journey home without the vengeance of Poseidon. Fictional narrative displays growth in its protagonist only through the device of antagonism… fictional narrative! The world of sports is indeed “non-fiction”. Athletes, are vulnerable, living, breathing entities and as much as they’d like to think otherwise they have feelings too. When we apply the rules of fiction to athletes it inevitably leads to their demise. I don’t mean these athletes are going to be physically harmed or killed as a result of this “vilifying” but destroyed or brought down in some way, yes. Let’s take a look into the vilification of one of the NBA’s greatest stars, Allen Iverson.
A.I. was pegged a troublemaker from the time he was 17 years old. Allen Iverson was tried as an adult for the felony charge of maiming by a mob for the Circle Lanes bowling alley brawl of 1993. The brawl was waged between Hampton local white students and Iverson’s crew of black students from Bethel High School. I’m not going to go into detail but one can’t deny the racism spurring this trial. Iverson was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in a state prison. African-American star athletes aren’t above the law, and the judicial system can falsely convict a black minor to prove it. The State of Virginia left a stain on Allen Iverson’s future as a star athlete. The Virginia Court of Appeals later overturned the conviction for insufficient evidence.
How many times did Iverson say the word “practice” in that one press conference? For those who care, 14, but more importantly there were two things that were to be taken from this incident. The media decided to focus on the one obvious piece of information, that Iverson doesn’t care much for practice. Now, I know this is hard for the average critic to do but let’s switch perspectives and ask ourselves what Iverson meant by this rant? Iverson was responding to the 76ers first round playoff exit of 2002. The media was using Larry Brown’s comment about Iverson missing a few team practices throughout the season as an excuse for Philadelphia’s first round disappointment. Iverson averaged 30 points a game in that series and the media was attempting to crucify him over a few missed practices. 30 points a game says that Iverson didn’t lose a step by missing practice. For a team that went all the way to the finals on Iverson’s back the year previous to get ousted in the first round with Iverson averaging the same numbers says something about the coach and the rest of the team. “Practice” was not the issue. His attitude, demeanor, tattoos, and braids won’t allow the media to adopt the latter frame of mind.
The referees had it out for Iverson during his stint with the Denver Nuggets. Iverson was fined $25,000 for criticizing referee, Steve Javie, after Javie ejected him from a game on January 2nd, 2007. Iverson stated, “I thought I got fouled on that play, and I said I thought that he was calling the game personal I should have known that I couldn’t say anything anyway. It’s been something personal with me and him since I got in the league. This was just the perfect game for him to try and make me look bad.” Former referee Tim Donaghy supported the claim that Javie had a longstanding hatred for Iverson in his book, Personal Foul: A First-Person Account of the Scandal that Rocked the NBA. Donaghy also went on to mention in a 60 Minutes special that in Iverson’s next regular season game after the ejection the referees, including Donaghy, conspired against Iverson because they thought the fine was too light. Donaghy reported that the referees agreed not to give Iverson any favorable calls to “teach him a lesson”. So the next time you think about frowning upon an athlete for complaining about a call remember that these are the demons officiating the game.
Iverson is looked down on because of expressing his dislike about coming off of Detroit’s bench in the 08-09 season. For what reason does a guard, averaging 27 points per game, need to sit on the bench? You can frown at whatever you like but what has this Pistons franchise done since 2005, Iverson or not? Iverson left Memphis and Philadelphia for “personal reasons”, one including the health of his four year-old daughter. Can we have a little compassion here for a man nursing his four year old daughter?
Iverson is a prime example of what vilification can do to an athlete’s career and image. Right now Allen Iverson, the best pound for pound basketball player this league has ever seen, can’t find work in the United States. Surely he could’ve “taken his talents to South Beach”. The media and the system succeeded in destroying the image of the fearless athlete who sacrificed every muscle and bone in his body every night for the game he loved. Is it fair to strip a man of the bread and butter that feeds his children because of his attitude? He is a grown man. He doesn’t need disciplining from anybody. Once the league and the media start respecting athletes as men and stop creating “bad guys”, we hopefully won’t see this type of thing happen to the game’s pioneers.Iverson recently signed a $4 million contract to Besiktas Besiktas in Turkey. Godspeed brother…
Written by Ricardo Middleton
Main Image by: Steve Freeman
Image 2 by: Mitchel Layton
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