Can't say I'm buying into the posthumous lionizing of Allen Iverson in the wake of his apparent retirement. A brilliant talent who thrived only if enough role players could be assembled to buy into his me-first version of basketball, he was fun to watch at times and his voice - raspy, deep, and dramatic sounding - is one of my favourite things about him. But what he said didn't matter. His real self was on display on the court and in my mind he was a minor NBA figure on that basis.
I suppose you can make the case that he deserves some respect for his determined individualism as the first NBA star to fully embrace tattoos, braids and what that symbolized. I have nothing against that, obviously. Freedom of expression is a good thing and if he forced the dominant culture to be more tolerant, aware or understanding of a certain strain of black culture that's worth while.
But it's also worth noting that he was paid, not prosecuted, for his choices, which makes the trail-blazing attributes a bit hollow - we're not talking Muhammad Ali here.
But in a basketball sense? Take away one magical year in Philly when an entire organization genuflected for his benefit and were rewarded with one Finals appearance thanks to a watered-down Eastern Conferece - Philly was the only team not to lose at least 30 games that year -- and what did he really accomplish?
He otherwise never made it out of the second round of the playoffs. When he left Denver the Nuggets made it to the Western Conference final; when he arrived in Detroit the Pistons got swept in the first round, missing the Eastern Conference final for the first time in six season; of course by then Iverson had already quit the team.
For the most part his teams suffered for his presence; he cost several good people jobs because he was largely uncoachable; he never really improved his game because as we all know, he wasn't really into practice.
He played hard, I guess, but you know what they say: no one works harder than someone who works for themselves.
Allen Iverson played for himself. The way he's apparently leaving the NBA doesn't tarnish his legacy, it simply confirms it.
One Game, Some Things, v1.15:
Honestly, what to say?
If the secret formula for the Raptors enjoying any noteable success this season is incremental improvement defensively - we're talking trying to be as good defensively as the Memphis Grizzlies, currently 29th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, okay? - a great place to start would be with transition defence.
Why transition defence? Well, it's the easiest kind of defence, really. You're not even trying to stop the other team from scoring; you're just trying to stop them from scoring right away. This be in the Raptors wheel house: just kind of slow 'em down.
But last night was a joke. The distinguishing feature was the way no one took any responsibility for what was happening at any given moment. We're not talking the runouts on turnovers; the Raptors are a very low turnover team so it's not normally a big issue and if a pass does get picked off chances are it's going the other way for a layup.
But last night there were several occasions where the ball would be rebounded by Charlotte - uncontested often - and any number of Bobcats would simply run past any number of loping Raptors, get a pass over the top and score. It was hard to believe. On one occasion Calderon beats his man cleanly for a layup, but misses it. Felton starts running out - not at a sprint, mind you - and Calderon kind of hangs his head and jogs behind him. After an instant he looks up and realizes Felton has him beat and points to ask for help. Only problem is no one is paying attention. Bargnani is back but not really reading the play. Felton sees open court and picks up the pace, Stephen Jackson hits him in stride and it's a layup.
On another occasion a moment later DeRozan lets Gerald Wallace sprint past him in the mid-court area. If there is one thing that DeRozan should never let happen in what is shaping up as an unremarkable rookie season, it's letting guys sprint past him; that should be the minimum. Transition defence is pretty easy: someone has to stop - or at least slow - the ball; everyone else has to find a man. When it's being done right people are talking and pointing and co-operating. Let me know if you see the Raptors doing that as a group in transition. It's not about lateral quickness or athleticism or size. It's merely about being aware of what's going on and trying not to give up a layup in the first four seconds of the shot clock.
In fact I'm thinking of introducing a new term to the local basketball lexicon: When an opposing player pulls a rebound off the defensive glass and dribbles the length of the floor for an uncontested fast-break layup; having to neither think of passing or even changing direction, it should be called A Raptor. As of now Gerald Wallace leads the NBA in Raptors though I think it's a safe bet that Rajon Rondo will challenge for the lead by the time the Celtics are finished with Toronto on Friday.