Friday, July 10, 2009

The Answer for Charlotte?

I live in North Carolina, and, somehow, I guess, am a Bobcats fan. The Bobcats, in the past season, have somehow transformed from a young team filled with Michael Jordan's dubious draft picks to a team with a delightful mix of great young potential stars and grizzled veterans. It is, in absolute seriousness, one of the elite defensive teams in the country and a serious contender to make the playoffs. It's a fun team, with lots of interesting characters: the visceral, passionate recklessness of Gerald Wallace, the bizarre efficiency and skill of the discarded cogs of the D'Antoni machine in Bell And Diaw, and perpetually underrated young talent in Okafor and Felton. Also, for some reason, they are really, inexplicably good at beating the Lakers (7 out of the last 8 games have been Charlote wins, I believe)

The known weakness of Charlotte is simple: they can't score. The prescription seems simple: add one electrifying shooting guard and stir. There are a couple of potential problems. Charlotte is cheap. The front office is dumb. Lots of players don't want to play in Charlotte. Famously, Charlotte drafted Kobe, but he was so adamant about not playing in North Carolina he forced a trade to the Lakers. I like to imagine that the animosity of Charlotte's basketball directed at Kobe Bryant is the driving force behind the inexplicable recent dominance of the Bobcats against the Lakers.

Vince Carter, for example, would have been the ideal fit for Charlotte. An impossibly explosive scorer at shooting guard, a steady veteran presence, and, as an alumnus of the University of North Carolina, precisely the kind of guy who might be delighted to play for Michael Jordan and Larry Brown. Vince Carter isn't available. Allen Iverson is. Over the course of his career, there is no one in the league who puts up more points per game than AI except for Goddamn Lebron James Himself. But is he a good fit for Charlotte?

That's an excellent question and one that someone else answered in an in-depth and thoughtful manner. If you are, like me, inexplicably a Bobcats fan, then Queen City Hoops is easily the most important Bobcats blog to read. When it comes to team blogs, Charlotte has lucked out in getting a blogger who has the time and patience for in-depth statistical analysis that has few other peers, especially focused on one team. Brett does a great job at breaking down all the details. Read his analysis here.

Here it should be mentioned that perhaps my favorite basketball player is Allen Iverson. There are a lot of reasons to not like Allen Iverson and, in fact, a lot of people don't. The orthodox fan who decries any change from the way basketball was under the Honorable Coach John Wooden hate him for his flash and his swagger which they think undermines the team concept. He famously doesn't care about practice, and, all things considered, undermines all of the Grand Traditions of Basketball. Stats guys hate him for his inefficiency and believe his reputation is inflated. There are other criticisms that you'll find pretty easily by Googling his name and a lot of them are really ugly. Some of them are outright racist and others idiosyncratic and pedantic, and some brave few combine all these complaints. His personal history of controversy and trouble make him an easy target, and admittedly, he is no angel.

That said, I really like Allen Iverson. Here's why: Allen Iverson shouldn't be one of the greatest basketball players ever. He is short and not a very good shot. He's a ball hog and takes excessive risks on defense. He's also absolutely electrifying to watch. Allen Iverson's game is based on sheer willpower and determination. The ball goes in because he wants it to go in more than anything in the world. He has few talents except for lightning speed, ridiculous reflexes, and just total gritty toughness. His drives are all improvisational rolls of the dice, the most desperate moves of another players repertoire. For Iverson, it's his go to move. To say he plays hard is an understatement: the man martyrs himself on the court every night in whats usually a vain effort (Remember, he's spent most of his career being the only good player on his team). He plays hard and he gets hurt and then he plays through the injury. He is one of the top five all-time leading scorers in the NBA, at several points in his career only bested by Wilt and Michael. He is, right now, the best player six feet tall or shorter to ever play.

AI has never been the hero in the NBA. He's always been, for the most part, cast as a heel, a villain. His past is too checkered and his tendency towards hard honesty gets him in trouble, makes him difficult for mass audiences to love. The man has no talent for managing the media and doesn't even really understand why someone would even bother. In some ways, he is the opposite of Shaq. Shaq is very media savvy and gleefully cultivates his own mythology and his own story which the lazy media gladly seizes as their own. Shaq's talent for the turn of phrase, his charisma, and his ability to know just what to say, so as to be seen as funny and affable, make him, if not universally beloved, at least widely liked. This is, however, a fairly deliberate and trained talent. AI doesn't have it. He can barely dissimulate, can't hide his emotions from the press, can't put a good face on things if they are bad. He doesn't care if you are charmed by him or like him. It just doesn't register.

Ignore his legendary, Hall of Fame ability, for a second: AI is potentially the grittiest, toughest, most willful, determined, and sincere player in the game right now. He always plays his hardest and he says what he means. This is a clip of him talking about his scholarship program this past week. The Answer doesn't necessarily have answers of his own, answers for himself, but that doesn't mean the Question is less meaningful and important.


I know I got gushy, and I know that really, AI may in fact just be so good at PR manipulation that he has willfully chosen and shaped this media perception of himself to attract suckers like me. It's possible. Do you think it's likely?

BONUS: Someone remixed the famous AI practice press-conference. Enjoy.

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