Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Evolution of an Iverson

I'm a serious hoop fan.

My boys and I argue about it constantly, the League Pass is always on in my crib and my sports-hating wife now understands the basics of the pick and roll.

The NBA is my favorite form of televised entertainment and Allen Iverson is the one player I can always watch. Doesn't matter what team he's on, if he's playing, I'm trying to watch.

As a diehard and longtime Iverson fan, I've studied his game since his first wild forays into the land of the giants at Georgetown. I've watched him create a brand new basketball move that has since been co-opted by every aspiring hoopster, and seen him grow from an out of control rookie to seasoned vet.

And what I've come to realize is that people don't give him enough credit for his intelligence.

The media, and thus the fans, love to discuss Iverson's quickness or toughness. They praise his aggressive nature and his penchant for playing long minutes at full speed. But, I've heard him called smart less than five times by an announcer or other media type.

That bothers me.

I mean, I watched his game evolve. You know that mid range jumper he now unleashes on smaller guards in the lane? He didn't have that when he first came into the league.

That constantly probing technique he now uses on the perimeter that's all change of pace and angles, that's some new ish. When he came to league his only speed was flat out and he used that every time he touched the ball.

Seriously, the league actually took away his most famous move, that incredible leaning, embarrassing crossover, and Iverson never stopped clicking. Who else can say that?

We hear about the intelligence and craftiness of Steve Nash, but he and Iverson came into the league at the same time, and it's Iverson's game that has evolved the most over the years, not Nash's. So why doesn't AI get credit for his brain? Why are people still so focused on his incredible physical skills?

I think it's because that's how we're trained to discuss certain athletes, particularly athletic black players. The mere existence of their outrageous physical talent tends to obscure the intelligence they display every time they step on the court.

I mean, we hear about just how amazing a talent Kobe Bryant is, but how often do people discuss that he might have the largest reservoir of basketball knowledge of any player in the league. Kobe is unparalleled as a student of the game; he breathes basketball and sweats it from every pore. Yet, announcers and media types spend much more time oohing and ahhhing at his highlight reel dunks, then discussing the perfect way he uses post footwork to create spacing.

It's the same for Iverson. He's not a great defender, but you could teach a class on the way he constantly plays the passing lanes. And it's not just lurking on the weak side; every move Iverson makes on the defensive side of the court is designed to disrupt his opponents’ attempts to move the ball. The way he shades the pick and roll, how he sinks on the post, Iverson has many flaws as a defender but he forces offenses to account for him on every play or pay the price.

The focus on the talent of certain players and not their brains contributes to society's tendency to devalue the intelligence of athletes and to treat them with a barely contained disdain. Truthfully, many of them struggle to properly conjugate a verb or have a shocking lack of knowledge about the outside world, but in their chosen profession many of them have the same level of expertise as well-respected scholars in the academic world.

The fact is athletes are not idiots, they just have a very limited area of expertise. We as a society need to give them more credit for that, considering how much importance we put on the sports they play. And, we need to appreciate the genius of Allen Iverson.


AI FAN said...

Thank you, thank you from one fan to another. It's not only Iverson, it's most AA players which is why I know watch my sports on mute with some nice jazz playing in the background.
Give it a try!

Big Man said...

You too? I've started doing it more and more myself, except I use hip hop rather than jazz. Or, I just mute the tv while I play with my son.

Raving Black Lunatic