'THIS KID HAS a legacy here in Philadelphia," Ed Stefanski was saying yesterday. The Sixers' president and general manager was talking about Allen Iverson, his newest employee. The kid is 34 years old.
Kid. It is a word Stefanski used a couple of times during a conference call with reporters. It is understandable because it is a word that fits the man perfectly. Iverson has always been smaller than the grownups on an NBA court. He has always been reckless amid those basketball grownups, in every sense of the word. It is a quality that has endeared him to his legions, forever.
Legacy. It is a concept that Stefanski invoked as a reason why things might be different this time. The notion that Iverson might actually care about what other people think of him is surprising, honestly. The fact that he didn't care always seemed an essential part of his charm.
With that, we are all about to go for a ride. Count me among the people who don't see the point. Count me, also, among the people who will watch it all take place with an undisguised fascination.
Iverson apparently has told the Sixers it is going to be different this time, which is all fine. Honestly, what else would he say? There is a codependence here: The Sixers need his scoring for a few weeks in the absence of Lou Williams and Marreese Speights, and Iverson needs the Sixers as a means for removing the chip on his shoulder that has grown through unsuccessful stops in Denver, Detroit and Memphis. As Stefanski said, "His thing was, he really wants to come back here to play. He wants to show people that he can still play."
Which gets us back to legacy, and to this ultimate truth: Nothing that happens in the next couple of months will change what people think about Iverson or remember about Iverson. If that is why he is doing this, it really will be a waste of everybody's time.
I mean, the Hall of Fame plaque will never read, "Allen Iverson, the charismatic guard who led the Sixers to an eighth-place finish in the NBA Eastern Conference in 2009-10 . . . " The legacy will not be altered here - and that's good, bad or indifferent - regardless of what happens between now and when the Sixers say goodbye for a second time.
The people who love him will continue to love him, regardless - because they have always loved him, regardless. The people who bemoan what might have been will still be moaning. Nothing will change that and nothing can change that, not in a couple of weeks.
He could score 30 points a game here and it would not matter. He could play straight-up defense for the first time in his adult life and it would not matter. He could monopolize the ball to the point where his teammates went into open rebellion and it would not matter. He could skip every practice between now and Presidents' Day and it would not matter.
At one point yesterday, Stefanski referred to Iverson as "a lightning rod," and that is exactly right. All emotion gathers around him. But in more than a decade, that emotion has served to harden all opinions.
The pro-Iverson people - and they are in the distinct majority - will never forget the spring of 2001, and they will never cease to be thrilled by the way he threw his body in among the trees, and they will never not be attracted to his anti-authoritarian insistence upon doing things his way. The anti-Iverson people will always talk about how he never worked to make his teammates better, and how he never really developed a jump shot, and how his game never evolved as time demanded, and about practice.
The debate raged for years, and Iverson thrived amid the heat. Those are the times we will always remember, not this little bit of a postscript on a 5-14 team. This will never be his legacy.
"He's arguably one of the top players to ever play in this city," Stefanski said. "If he doesn't get back in the NBA and play the way we want him to, and the way he needs to do, it's not going to help him. He wants it. He wants it badly, to show that he is an NBA basketball player and who he is - especially coming back to Philly. This is a low risk for the organization and a high reward."
It will be theater more than anything, a second act that cannot possibly be as memorable as the first.
Send e-mail to
or read his blog, The Idle Rich, at
For recent columns go to