Basketball fans will know exactly who this commentary is about. For the basketball illiterate, "The Answer" is the nickname of 10 time NBA All-Star and future Hall of Famer, Allen Iverson. "The Answer" has had an up and down career in the NBA. Statistically he is one of the best players to play the game, or as some have said the best "pound for pound" player in the history of the NBA (Iverson is only six feet tall, very small by NBA standards). At the same time he has never won a championship and has often been viewed as a me-first player.
Recently Iverson declared that he will be retiring at the age of 34. For normal humans, 34 is a somewhat reasonable time for someone to call it quits in the NBA. But everyone that has watched Iverson play, knows that he can still play basketball at a high level. The reason he chose to retire is because, it appeared that no one wanted him. After a long summer where only the Memphis Grizzlies showed any interest and a brief stint with them, it seemed no team wanted "to deal" with Iverson. (There are reports surfacing that his original team, the 76ers are interested in signing him.)
Why is there no team, including the deplorable Knicks, that are interested in a guard that can still drop twenty points in his sleep? Well there are several reasons. The main one is that Allen has a stipulation, he wants to start if he is the best player at his position on a particular team. He gets really angry when teams suggest otherwise, probably too angry. He has had some issues off the court over the years, but nothing that has been extremely out of control. For the most part, all of the teams he has been on have been competitive. Is it really that big of a deal that a player wants to be the starter on his team, if he is the best player?
And this reveals one of the conundrums of professional sports including the NBA. Seven years ago when Iverson was winning the league MVP and taking his team to the NBA Championship (Losing to the Lakers), he was rewarded for his bravado. He had his critics, but on the whole he was seen as an elite player deserving of elite treatment. Today his skills have dropped but only slightly. He is 34 which makes teams reluctant to make him a cornerstone yet he still is as competitive as ever. But now he is no longer rewarded for his fire. Instead he is criticized and ostracized. And here is where the political statement comes in: I think one of the reasons this is happening is because he is Black!
That type of statement would drive most sports commentators absolutely nuts. That's because many people see race relations as black and white (pun intended). I'm not implying that David Stern (The NBA Commissioner, who happens to be white) is secretly plotting with owners in the NBA to banish "The Answer" because he is black. It is more about the way white athletes can be viewed in comparison to black athletes.
Take Brett Favre (from the NFL), he appeared to be slipping, a little, a couple of years ago, retired, unretired, left the Packers to join the Jets, retired, unretired and joined the Vikings. Every stop he was given the red carpet treatment and the keys to the team. And now at the age of forty he is having a career season. He is the definition of competitive and has also refused to sit on the bench for an inferior player. In a lot of ways they aren't that different, except that teams have been willing to believe in Favre and put him in ideal situations to succeed. I believe this is because his story fits the "White American Hero Narrative". John Wayne, the Gipper, Superman and Paul Bunyon. I believe that this narrative lends itself to a glorification of the ideals of white society. For most people I believe this is unconscious, but when transcribed across the violent and racist history of the United States it can be problematic.
Look at Iverson, he is the Bad Boy, the villain, the epitome of what is wrong with basketball. Basketball cannot be basketball as we know it, without Allen Iverson. He is so transcendent an athlete, that his contributions are codified in the scripts of basketball history. So if something is negative about Iverson, than something is negative about B-Ball as a whole.
If Iverson represents the negativity of basketball than why does the introspection stop there? What about the industry that earned millions of dollars off of Iverson? What about the league where many of the players happen to be breathing commodities and also ancestors of slaves, while the owners are almost entirely white (With one exception.)? Sure Iverson is filthy rich and definitely not a a slave, but some of the dynamics are still there. Is there any reason why this isn't part of the dialogue? Yes.
The players could wake up one day and say: "This sucks. We quit. Let's start our own league." The millions of dollars they are paid buys their acquiescence while most of them will lose their money shortly after they retire, due to poor financial literacy. Of course very few owners will ever lose their money because most of them were raised with it. The few that weren't, spend their young adulthood learning how to make money, not jumpshots, and develop much more financial literacy. And so in the end, you have billionaires that will all remain wealthy their entire lives, buying and trading individual millionaires that will most likely have no money by the age of 50. Drawing attention to this could affect the players participation and the owners pockets.
And now we have "The Answer", most likely a millionaire for life, with nowhere (as of today) to play the game he gave everything to