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MARK HEISLER / ON THE NBA

Allen Iverson still has heart, but little else in Memphis

Iverson served in a reserve role Friday night as the Lakers, attempting five shots, making two, and scoring eight points in 21 minutes.

November 07, 2009|MARK HEISLER

Meteor flying too close to the ground. . . .

Any tragedy in Allen Iverson's life has nothing to do with his basketball career, which was inspiring and earned him hundreds of millions of dollars, some of which we hope he kept after all those widely chronicled trips to Atlantic City, N.J., when he was in Philadelphia.

Everything that came before was tragic, the poverty growing up in Hampton, Va., the controversial 15-year jail sentence for his part in a bowling alley race riot as a teenager, of which he served four months before he was granted clemency and his conviction was overturned.

For all the subsequent outcries in the NBA over his braids, tattoos, below-the-knee shorts, failure to defer to Michael Jordan and whatever else he did, the basketball was the easy part.

It's still the easy part, it's just that it's not as easy as it used to be at 34 . . . with his third team in two seasons . . . coming off the bench . . . and upset about it.

Breaking the American land speed record for creating controversy, Iverson made his Memphis Grizzlies debut as a reserve last week, after a hamstring injury cost him most of his preseason, something else that didn't used to happen.

Asked after his first game if his hamstring had been a problem, Iverson replied, "I had a problem with my butt sitting on that bench for so long. . . .

"I'm not a bench player. I'm not a sixth man. Look at my resume and that'll show I'm not a sixth man. I don't think it has anything to do with me being selfish. It's just who I am. I don't want to change what gave me all the success that I've had since I've been in this league. I'm not a sixth man. And that's that."

To be precise, Iverson was a seventh man Friday night as the Lakers bombed the Grizzlies, 114-98 at Staples Center, attempting five shots, making two, scoring eight points in 21 minutes.

If it's not the way you would have liked to see him go out, maybe it's the only way he could have. His heart and his will, not his 6-foot, 165-pound body, made him a superstar.

His heart and his will are still all they were, if nothing else is. Having lived as a shooting star, he looks fated to go out the same way.

His heart made him special to fans, like his new teammate O.J. Mayo, who grew up idolizing Iverson and is now thrilled to play alongside him

"He really represented, like, the hip-hop world, the inner city, the brazen tattoos," Mayo said before Friday's game.

"The guy was from the inner city, but he wasn't rapping or selling drugs, he was putting the basketball in the cup, giving guys 40. Not the biggest guy or the strongest guy, but he seemed like the toughest guy.

"It's great to have him help a young group of guys like us learn the ropes. It's nothing but an honor to a young player like me, growing up watching him, having posters of him, having DVDs of him. Now I'm in the locker room with him. Can't be a much better feeling."

Actually, it could be a lot better for Iverson.

Asked before the game about coming off the bench, he shut down the line of inquiry, asking, "You come to the Memphis Grizzlies, isn't there anything else to ask about?"

Unfortunately, there wasn't. Meteors don't set, they crash, and this one is nearing journey's end.

--

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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