Monday Morning Point Guard
Call me jaded and cynical, but the two most talked about events of the NBA's All-Star Weekend -- Nate Robinson defeating Dwight Howard in the slam dunk contest and Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal sharing the All-Star Game MVP award -- seemed somewhat rigged/conveniently coincidental. So, for me, the most unexpected and memorable moment was when Allen Iverson emerged for the Eastern Conference practice on Saturday with a new haircut.
Iverson chopping off his trademark cornrows marked the official end of an era and put some unfortunate hairstylist out of work. When Carmelo Anthony shaved his hair before this season, it was significant move, but Iverson was braids. He made them cool. He made them a symbol of in-your-face rebellion. He made them stylish (especially when he wore doo-rags on his head that matched his outfits).
It could be argued that Iverson's cornrows had the same impact on hip-hop culture and NBA hairstyles the past 10 or so years as Michael Jordan's bald head had in the early 1990s. He started growing his hair during his rookie year out of Georgetown and they became synonymous with Iverson's image, right along with his tattoos.
He had been the last star to hold on to the look after Richard Hamilton, Jermaine O'Neal and Anthony scrapped it for the more conservative low cut. But after nearly 13 years, Iverson decided that he needed a change. I don't expect Iverson to hit a laser tattoo removal parlor anytime soon, but the move showed that the 33-year-old truly has grown up. I often wondered how long he was going to hold on to that look; if he was going to be 50, attending some NBA legends function with his frosty white hair zig-zagged in some creative pattern atop his head.
But you won't find a more authentic reaction than the shock of his Eastern Conference teammates on Saturday:
As for Nate Robinson's slam dunk title, I'll give him credit for providing some entertaining moments, dancing, dressing up in green and dubbing himself KrytoNate while dethroning Superman. But I have to say that the most difficult dunks of the night (this was the dunk contest, right?) were actually pulled off by Portland rookie Rudy Fernandez. The behind-the-back pass off the top of the backboard and catching Pau Gasol's pass from behind the basket, dipping under and dunking (no matter how many times he needed to attempt it), were the best slams. And he got two 42s?
But there was no way that Howard and Robinson weren't going to advance with Howard already securing a phone booth and a 12-foot basket and Robinson having lime green sneakers and matching arm sleeve in the back. I didn't mind seeing Howard and Robinson in the finals, but Superman succumbing to kryptonite worked more as a movie than the actual dunks either contestant pulled off. Rudy was robbed. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I like creative dunks over staged theatrics. If I can get both, cool.
And as for the actual All-Star Game, that may have been as dull as the Las Vegas game two years ago, when the West drubbed the East in what still ranks as the least competitive exhibition I've ever witnessed. But at least the league was able to milk the Shaq-Kobe storyline one last time as the former championship duo really, really finished with the same amount of votes (wink, wink) to tie for the MVP award.
In likely his final all-star apperance, the soon-to-be 37-year-old O'Neal seemed to be the only player to embrace the need for showmanship in the all-star game as he emerged in the pregame introductions with a white plastic mask, popping, locking and rocking with the dance group, the JabbaWockeeZ. Then, during the game, he provided the best highlight when he threw the basketball through Dwight Howard's legs and completed a give-and-go with Hornets point guard Chris Paul for an emphatic dunk. O'Neal punished the smallish Eastern Conference front court (did they really need to replace Chris Bosh with Mo Williams?) for 17 points in just 11 minutes.
Bryant was more lethal in his destruction of the East, with his competitive drive again forcing him to take the game seriously, even when those around him just wanted to get back to their respective teams in one piece. Although he seemed uncomfortable having to share the spotlight with his longtime nemesis O'Neal, Bryant at least was a good sport.
While Shaq's farewell was cool, this weekend was also about Iverson putting closure to the NBA's long hair era.
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