Sunday, December 6, 2009

AI Grows Up

The holiday season has arrived, which in 2009 means a couple of things for me: It's time to start analyzing dissertation data, it's time to swim fast in the swimming pool, and the holiday gift list will be made with a greater consciousness of the economic times. The Philadelphia 76ers got one such gift last week when they worked out a deal for Allen Iverson to return to the team. No one energized the Philly sports scene in the last decade like AI did with the pinnacle being Game 1 of the 2001 NBA finals where he scored 48 pts. Philly embraced AI in good times and bad, so while it was not surprising to see him emotional at his "Welcome Back" press conference, the degree to which he allowed the public to see what he was feeling was captivating and inspiring. Too often the dominant narrative about athletes, particularly black ones is that they are lawless, defiant, and selfish/greedy. To a large extent Iverson fit this bill for the great majority of his career, but his Friday presser showed that there is complexity to the superstar athlete that cannot be discounted. Instead of talking about how he's the franchise player and minimizing the need for PRACTICE as he did in 2002, he talked about a connection to his fans and family. It shows how perspective is gained with time and we start to appreciate and cherish more than just the material trappings of life. The Iverson emotional display also shows that we can't snap to judgement based on the public presentation of the self that one gives us. I know this seems intuitive and cliche, but given the reaction to Tiger Woods behavior in the aftermath of his car accident and related allegations, we still have not figured that out as a culture. The story of Iverson can no longer be told simply as superstar gunner lead his team to the Finals, but hated practice and couldn't stay out of trouble with the law. His life has been and continues to be more complex than that. I respect him even more now than I did simply as a competitor for being willing to sit in front of the mic and reflect on his shortcomings.