Monday Morning Point Guard
Practice? We talking about practice? Not a game. Not a game. We're talking about a practice Allen Iverson skipped to upset his new team, and a game -- actually two -- that Stephon Marbury refused to play for the team he has tormented for several years.
It was an interesting week in the Association, with Eddie Jordan getting the pink slip and LeBron James hoarding the headlines in New York talking about where he might play in two years. Then Marbury and Iverson stole the spotlight by the end of the week for doing what they've come to be known for -- Marbury, for being disgruntled and hardheaded; Iverson for being allergic to practice.
Marbury got fined and suspended for insubordination after failing to play when Knicks Coach Mike D'Antoni softened his I-won't-play-Steph stance and asked him to help out his shorthanded team. Iverson got fined and benched for deciding that he'd spend Thanksgiving with his family instead of wasting an hour or so with his teammates.
These guys are way too old for this. If they were young hotshots, you could chalk it up to a lack of maturity and experience. But these two 30-somethings are in their 13th seasons and shouldn't be causing problems or distractions anymore.
When Iverson went No. 1 overall out of Georgetown and Marbury went fourth out of Georgia Tech in the 1996 NBA Draft, so much was expected of the two explosive point guards. After their first head-to-head matchup, the young Marbury, already prone to making outlandish declarations, said, "It's going to be a rivalry like Magic and Bird. It's going to go on like 15 more years."
No one really believed that would occur, but the expectations were pretty high. For a little reminder, check out this video:
I remember being a junior in college back in 1997 and I came up to D.C. for spring break with my cousin, Don, and my boy, Kevin. I looked at the NBA schedule and saw that Minnesota was playing Philadelphia, so we decided to make the drive up to Philly to see rookie sensations Iverson and Marbury (and Kevin Garnett) and eat some cheese steaks.
We asked this construction worker for the best cheese steaks and he suggested Tony Luke's on Oregon, but he lost us when he spelled the street, "O-R-E-G-A-N." Inspired by Boyz II Men's "Motownphilly" video, we ate at Geno's. Then we bought some walk-up tickets, the cheapest we could find, and caught the game in upper, upper deck. We were so high, we could slap the rafters, but we didn't need binoculars to be blown away by Iverson and Marbury (and Derrick Coleman, believe it or not. For some reason, I remember tripping out on how DC was balling that night. He had 21 points and 14 boards). Anyway, Iverson went for 24 points and 8 assists, Marbury went for 20 and 7 and the Sixers won, so we weren't disappointed.
Their careers haven't been disappointments at all -- at least from an individual, statistical standpoint -- but they've had their share of off-court mishaps. And, both have also managed to put themselves ahead their respective teams for most of their careers, although Iverson is mostly revered by his teammates while Marbury has often become a destructive force wherever he has been.
Both were also members of the infamous bronze medal Olympic team in Athens in 2004. They both publicly clashed with Hall of Fame Coach Larry Brown. They have run through their share of coaches. And neither has won a playoff series in the past five years (Marbury hasn't even been to the postseason since 2004). The one time they teamed up for success was the 2001 All-Star Game in Washington, when Iverson scored 15 fourth-quarter points and Marbury hit two crucial threes to turn a potential 21-point blowout into a 111-110 victory for the East.
Iverson is definitely headed for the Hall of Fame, after winning the MVP and leading Philadelphia to the NBA Finals in 2001. He has had, by far, the greater career of the two. But he and Marbury are both lacking championship rings, and neither has been willing to make the necessary sacrifices to reach that goal -- which makes these latest incidents more disconcerting.
And with these latest situations, I have to say that Iverson was more out of line than Marbury.
Iverson is the new guy in Detroit. He needs to learn how to play with his teammates, and do whatever he can to gain their trust -- and the trust of his coach, Michael Curry, and boss, Joe Dumars. The Pistons made it to six Eastern Conference finals before Iverson came to town. They clearly have a system that works. It's his job to fit in, not the other way around.
At 33, Iverson doesn't necessarily need a lecture. He apologized for his actions, but it seems somewhat hollow. It doesn't change the fact that he insulted his coach and skipped practice because he didn't want to work on Thanksgiving. Iverson, however, will be able to make up for his transgression by giving his all once the ball gets tossed up on game night -- a quality that continues to keep him in high demand. But with him entering free agency next summer, he really needs to be on his best behavior, no?
As for Marbury, I'll never defend a player for disrespecting a coach, and his behavior in New York has been reprehensible the past three seasons -- with his disagreements with Brown and his former friend, Isiah Thomas, contributing to both coaches getting fired. He gets paid $21.6 million to play basketball for the Knicks, so when D'Antoni asks him to play in games against Milwaukee and Detroit, Marbury needed to be a professional, get his behind on the floor and play. And who knows, if he had sucked up his pride, Marbury may have endeared him to a prospective new employer?
That being said, the Knicks were culpable in creating this mess. Marbury shouldn't have been around the team to even cause a distraction. Once D'Antoni announced that Marbury wasn't in the plans, Knicks President Donnie Walsh should've treated him like Indiana did Jamaal Tinsley, cleaned out his locker and sent him home with pay until he was either traded or waived. Marbury shouldn't have been in a position to feel empowered by the Knicks' desperation after Walsh traded guards Jamal Crawford and Mardy Collins two weeks ago, and Nate Robinson went down with a groin injury last week.
The Knicks let this situation turn nasty and it was bound to blow up in their faces. Granted, Marbury is their employee, but they can't treat the guy like a cow patty, openly and repeatedly declare that the team is moving forward without him, then come crawling back and ask him for his help. If D'Antoni didn't play Marbury because he didn't think he was a good teammate, what else should he expect?
Marbury has since ripped D'Antoni, telling the New York Post, "I wouldn't trust him to walk my dog across the street." Let's just hope that the Knicks and Marbury can finally part ways already -- so that he can become another team's headache.
Iverson is on his third team, while Marbury will soon be on his fifth, but the lessons of the past still haven't sunk in.
The weekly awards will follow ...
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