Posts Tagged ‘Allen Iverson’

Blogtable: Toughest Player … Ever

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Dual dueling PGs in Houston | Tough Guy award | What to make of the Pelicans


Allen Iverson

Allen Iverson (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Derrick Rose looks like he’s back, Russell Westbrook is dunking in practice … who’s the toughest, most resilient NBA player you’ve ever seen?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comJerry Sloan was the Dick Butkus/Mike Ditka of Chicago basketball in the late ’60s and early ’70s. He didn’t get that clenched-fist profile hoisting pretty jumpers. Long before he was a Hall of Fame coach, Sloan was a spit ‘n’ vinegar Bulls guard alongside also-nails-tough Norm Van Lier. Those two — and more important, their opponents — needed cut men in their corners more than coaches on their benches.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comPound for pound, it’s got to be Allen Iverson. The little guy was bounced off more courts than anything without “Spalding” stamped across its face and kept right on coming back for more. Runner-up: Isiah Thomas.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Certainly it’s impossible not to immediately think of Michael Jordan, who played in at least 78 games in a season 12 times and through all kinds of injuries and illness. Larry Bird, too, with his awful back issues and Kobe Bryant, who had seemed almost impervious to injury until his Achilles blowout. Steve Nash is another guy who took all kinds of punishment and kept on coming. But one player fresh on my mind is Rudy Tomjanovich. I recently finally read John Feinstein‘s book “The Punch.” Tomjanovich wanted to walk right back on the court even though the punch Kermit Washington delivered caused Tomjanovich’s skull to leak spinal fluid (of course he didn’t quite know it at that moment). For him to come back after an injury that could have killed him and required multiple surgeries, to average 19.0 points and 7.7 rebounds a game the next season and make the All-Star team is nothing short of remarkable. Tomjanovich was always tough, but that brand of toughness stretches well beyond the imagination.

Kobe Bryant in the 2000 Finals

Kobe Bryant in the 2000 Finals (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Kobe Bryant could have been a hockey player. Ultimate compliment. John Stockton is in the conversation. He didn’t battle serious injuries, but he was a point guard constantly setting hard screens on bigs, he never missed games. Grant Hill and Zydrunas Ilgauskas defined resilient — the number of times they could have retired because of injury, refused, and built lengthy careers through determination as much as talent.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s easy to recall both Jason Kidd and Steve Nash playing playoff games with one eye mostly swollen shut. I’ve heard stories about Chuck Hayes separating his shoulder on multiple occasions, popping it back in and getting back on the floor. But I don’t think anyone tops Kobe Bryant playing through the various injuries that he’s had over the years. In ’09-10, he put up over 1,500 shots with a broken finger on his shooting hand!

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: That’s a ridiculously tough question to answer given what passes for toughness in today’s NBA. I think the toughest and most resilient player I have seen during my time as a conscientious observer of the NBA would certainly have to be two different players (I always go with Charles Oakley and Derrick Coleman as the two toughest, based solely on the eyewitness testimony of guys who played with and against them during their era). If we’re talking about guys who have bounced back from significant injury to regain their status in the league or the guy who are willing to sacrifice life and limb to stay on the court, the guy willing to drag around a dangling limb if he has to in order to keep his team in a position to win, that’s another story. You never really know what kind of pain threshold a particular guy might have and you certainly have no idea if they are willing to push it to the limit in this day and age, not with all of the science out there that indicates physical trauma of any kind can having a detrimental and lasting impact on an athlete’s life for year and years to come. That said, Kobe Bryant and Rajon Rondo strike me as guys who have and will give it all up to compete and compete at the highest level. Kobe popped an Achilles and got up and walked down the floor and shot free throws, man. And you remember when Rondo got his arm twisted the wrong way and came back later and played, or when he tore his ACL last season and finished the game like it was no big deal. Come to think of it, I’m not sure if those things make you tough, resilient or just plain crazy.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogKevin Willis. Considering he started playing for the Hawks when I was a kid and then was still playing in the NBA by the time I was out of school and working covering the NBA… I mean, that’s a pretty wide span. He always kept himself in tip-top condition, which is why he was able to play until he was 44 years old. I had the pleasure of being able to share a few meals with Kevin toward the end of his career, and he was always terribly careful about what he would order and what he would allow himself to eat. (I was not so careful.) There may have been guys who were “tougher,” meaning guys who were ready to fight at the drop of a hat, but I don’t think anyone has ever been more resilient than Kevin Willis.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com IndiaThe player that immediately springs to mind is Allen Iverson. Perhaps the greatest pound-for-pound player ever, Iverson played much bigger than his 6-foot stature and dominated opponents on a nightly basis in his prime. He was also tougher than nails when it came to playing through injury, highlighted by the memorable 2001 season when he carried the undermanned 76ers to the Finals while also carrying various sprains, contusions and who knows what other pain in his body.

Jacopo Gerna, NBA.com ItaliaI’ll pick up Bill Laimbeer. Despite an ordinary body, he was a four-time All Star and a clutch player for the Detroit Pistons when they won two championships. Coaches, players, fans … when they talk about “playing hard,” what does it mean? I suggest a Laimbeer DVD. Look how he was able to face down bigger centers, opening the court with his silky mid-range shot and 3-pointers, playing pick-and-pop alongside Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars. For sure he committed many hard fouls, and sometimes he flopped to the ground after a slight brushing. But his reputation for physical play (“he’s a thug”, said his former teammate Dennis Rodman) overshadowed his skills. To me, he was always more than a “bad boy.”

Aldo Miguel Aviñante, NBA.com Philippines:  Kobe Bryant, no doubt. He has been playing through injuries throughout most of his career — mentally and physically no one can match the Mamba. He prepares himself and uses every advantage he can to take care of his body. The image of Kobe walking by himself with a ruptured Achilles is a testament of his incredible toughness and resiliency.

Aldridge: Ex-MVP Iverson To Officially Retire From NBA This Month

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The long, illustrious, controversial career of Allen Iverson appears finally to be coming to an end. The 11-time All-Star is expected to finally and formally announce his retirement in Philadelphia at the end of the month, according to league sources.

Rumors that Iverson was ready to retire were rampant in September, but the 38-year-old guard never made a formal announcement. But sources say that the official announcement is scheduled for Oct. 30, the day after the NBA’s regular season begins, when the 76ers play their home opener against Miami.

In addition, sources indicate that the organization may be discussing some kind of post-playing position for Iverson. Though he wouldn’t be expected to have input with the current coaching staff, Iverson could travel with the team on occasional road trips.

If Iverson is indeed through playing — he had brief dalliances with teams in Turkey and China the last couple of years while trying to get back into the NBA — it will end one of the greatest careers in league history, one in which Iverson’s image and lifestyle made as many headlines as his on-court play.

In 14 NBA seasons, Iverson scored 24,368 points, averaging 26.7 points a game. His point total is 24th on the all-time scoring list.

The first overall pick of the celebrated 1996 Draft, Iverson was an electric performer who sold tickets and jerseys, and was must-see TV for years while carrying the league into the post-Michael Jordan era. Iverson was one of the most dynamic “small men” in league history, standing roughly 5-foot-10, and maybe 170 pounds. But he played with the heart of someone much bigger, repeatedly driving into the paint to challenge anyone who got in his path. His ballhandling skills (some would say occasionally aided by a palm or two) and amazing speed made him almost impossible to guard with one player.

He was not a great 3-point shooter (31.3 percent for his career), and shot a lot more than his teammates. But his drive, will and passion (he always referred to “playing every game as if it’s my last”) always gave his teams a chance.

Demonstrative, often profane, but searingly honest about many of his faults, Iverson lived his life in the public eye, often clashing with the league’s ideals about demeanor and dress. He often wore do-rags over his head, wore his hair in braids and had tattoos all over his body, single-handedly changing the styles of NBA players almost overnight.

The dress code instituted by Commissioner David Stern in 2005, in which players were told to wear “business casual” attire when conducting league business and sport coats and dress shoes while not playing but on the team’s bench, was informally known as the “Iverson Rule.”

Iverson led the 76ers to the 2001 Finals, the same year he was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. His love-hate relationship with then-coach Larry Brown was the source of endless media scrutiny and attention, with each insisting the other was the cause of the problems. In the end, though, both came to have great affection and respect for how they influenced each other.

Iverson outlasted Brown, who departed for the Pistons in 2003. Philadelphia finally dealt Iverson to Denver in 2006, after then-owner Ed Snider granted Iverson’s request to be traded. In a little more than a season and a half for the Nuggets, Iverson had occasional moments of the old brilliance, but Denver lost in the first round of the playoffs in both seasons. Three games into the 2008-09 season, Denver sent Iverson to Detroit.

Iverson was second on the team in scoring in Detroit, but he clashed with first-year coach Michael Curry. The Pistons lost in the first round of the playoffs and didn’t re-sign Iverson in the summer. He signed with Memphis in the offseason, but his time there was a disaster; then-coach Lionel Hollins confronted him during the preseason and demanded he be more team-oriented. After three games, Iverson left the Grizzlies on a personal leave of absence. He played his final 25 NBA games for his old team, the 76ers, in an act of seeming closure both for him and the franchise.

His legacy as one of the league’s all-time greatest players is assured. Almost any young point guard playing today says he emulated Iverson growing up. Just days ago, LeBron James told ESPN the Magazine that Iverson and Jordan were his two favorite players as a kid.

Five Who Could Crash Scoring Race Party

 

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – First-time scoring champ Carmelo Anthony lit up April, averaging 36.9 ppg to deny Kevin Durant a fourth consecutive scoring title.

It won’t be terribly surprising if Melo collects a second trophy this season. Prior to Durant’s three-peat, Kobe Bryant (2005, ’06), Tracy McGrady (’03, ’04) and Allen Iverson (’01, ’02) all repeated, so that’s a pretty decent track record for staking back-to-back scoring titles.

Starting with last season’s top five scorers — Anthony (28.7 ppg), Durant (28.1), Bryant (27.3), LeBron James (26.8) and James Harden (25.9) — plus a strong candidate pool coming, the scoring race should be a fun one, and the top five scorers in the league come April 2014 might look different than it did in 2013.

Of course, for a player to move into the top five, one most fall out.

So which player or players are vulnerable to vacating the top five? Start with the three players I think are as close to top-five locks as possible: Melo (he’s still just 29 and by far the Knicks’ No. 1 option); Durant (he has so many ways to score that he can drop 30 hopping on one leg); and James (he can score whenever and however he wants, and he’s finished in the top four in scoring in nine consecutive seasons).

That leaves two that could slip and open a spot: Harden (the addition of Dwight Howard will alter Houston’s offense and spread the scoring wealth); and Kobe (it’s dangerous to doubt him considering he’s finished in the top five since finishing sixth in 2001-02, but, at 35 years old and coming off Achilles surgery, there has to be some dropoff, right?).

Which players will make a run at cracking the top five? Here’s my top five:

1. Derrick Rose, Bulls: The offense-starved Bulls will welcome their point guard back after he missed all of last season recovering from ACL surgery. He’s had plenty of time to hone his game and Rose will return with a vengeance, perhaps reaching his 2010-11 level when he averaged 25.0 ppg and won the league MVP. That season put him on the cusp of the top five, just 0.3 ppg behind Bryant and Amare Stoudemire.

2. Kevin Love, Timberwolves: Another injury returnee, Love played just 18 games last season due to a right hand he broke twice. He’s got Ricky Rubio to set him up, an offensively gifted center in Nikola Pekovic to draw attention down low and shooters around him such as Kevin Martin and Chase Budinger. Love is set up to return to the 26.0 ppg he averaged  in 2011-12 when he shot 37.2 percent from beyond the arc and finished fourth in the scoring race.

3. Russell Westbrook, Thunder: Yeah, yeah, maybe he shoots too much considering he plays alongside that Durant guy. But Westbrook’s a stone-cold scorer and Thunder coach Scott Brooks knows it. After his knee injury in the first round, Westbrook (he finished sixth in scoring last season at 23.2 ppg) declared that he will return a smarter player. Maybe it means he’ll take fewer bad shots, but don’t expect him to necessarily take fewer shots since the Thunder lost 3-point ace Martin to the Wolves in free agency.

4. Blake Griffin, Clippers: This guy takes a lot of flak for a perceived lack of development in his low-post and mid-range game, and I have said that he must find less violent ways to score to truly become great. I think the powerful Griffin delivers this season on a team loaded with options and one that will be smartly coached by Doc Rivers. Despite a lack of finesse, Griffin still managed to average 22.5 ppg in 2010-11 and is a career 52.9 percent shooter. Only 24, Griffin’s career is just getting started, and he’s got Chris Paul to make his ascension all the easier.

5.  Stephen Curry, Warriors: The best pure shooter in the game today averaged a career-best 22.9 ppg last season and then increased it to 23.4 ppg with an electric postseason. His scoring potential is off the charts. But he’s also got a team to run and that includes some pretty nice targets in Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee, Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut. Still, like Westbrook, this kid is a born scorer and as long as his ankles hold up, Curry is going to put up some huge games for a team attempting to move up into the Western Conference elite.

Laying It On The Line: The Answers

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HANG TIME, Texas – On a recent hot summer day when Allen Iverson announced his retirement, what immediately came to mind was not one single spectacular shot that he made, but all of those fabulous, bone-jarring times he crashed to the floor.

And then got back up.

It wasn’t just his ability to lead the NBA scoring four times that made Iverson special. It was that warrior’s mentality, the trait that made him willing, against all odds, to out-scrap, out-hustle, out-compete everybody else on the court.

Through the history of the NBA, it’s usually been the big men — think Shaquille O’Neal, Moses Malone, Alonzo Mourning, Karl Malone, Charles Oakley — who got the reputation for being strong and tough, but the truth is some of the fiercest players we’ve seen over the past 30 years have been guards.

In addition to Iverson, here’s another handful of the backcourt backbreakers we’ll call The Answers. They’re indomitable. They breathe fire. They don’t ever quit. They would chew off a leg to escape from a steel trap. They’re the ones you want playing in a single game with your life on the line:

Isiah Thomas It was never wise to be fooled by the cherubic face and angelic smile. The truth is that while Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn got most of the notoriety for their bruising style and often dirty tricks, Thomas was the real heart and cold-blooded soul of the Detroit “Bad Boys.” Part of what made him the best “little man” ever to play the game was an inner fire that never burned out. He competed ferociously and refused to ever show a sign of weakness. Hobbling on a badly sprained ankle in Game 6 against the Lakers in the 1988 Finals, he scored 25 points in the fourth quarter — a Finals record — and nearly pulled out a win that would have given the Pistons their first championship a year earlier. Then there was the night of Dec. 14, 1991 when on a drive down the lane in the first quarter in Salt Lake City, Thomas took an elbow to the face from Karl Malone that opened a huge gash over his left eye. After receiving 40 stitches, Thomas returned to play in the fourth quarter.

Michael Jordan Sure, he had the leaping ability, the defensive desire, the post game, clutch jumper and late-game instincts. But Jordan the All-Star would never have become Jordan the legend and icon without his roaring, brash nature, downright mean streak and readiness to do anything it took to pull out a win. He could barely control his competitive urges, whether it was challenging Bulls teammates in practice, occasionally punching one of them out, or rising up in a game situation to respond to any kind of challenge — real or imagined — that might have been tossed out. There was virtually nothing that could stop Jordan from leaving every ounce of himself in any game that he ever played. The so-called “Flu Game” in the 1997 Finals is frequently cited. He spent the night before Game 5 at Utah suffering from severe stomach distress and was a questionable starter. Dehydrated, struggling to breathe, he hit 13 of 27 shots for 38 points to lead the Bulls to a 90-88 win. Just as telling was a story from the training camp of the 1992 USA Dream Team in Monte Carlo. After beating Jordan in a golf match one afternoon, coach Chuck Daly was awakened very early the next morning by a banging on his hotel room door. When he opened the door, Daly found a grim-faced, primed-for-revenge Jordan standing there, dressed for the golf course. “Let’s go,” he said.

Kobe Bryant – You can call him a shameless gunner who never ever met a shot he didn’t like or wouldn’t take. Shaq did. You can call him a difficult and unpleasant teammate who would make a guy leave an extra contract year and $20 million on the table to walk away from the Lakers. Dwight Howard certainly did. But after 17 NBA seasons, you can’t call Bryant anything less than the most single-minded, driven competitor in the game today. He won’t just trash-talk opponents, but will ride his own teammates to get them to try to match his level of intensity. (They can’t.) He plays hurt, aching, sick, bruised, broken and he is usually still the best player and hardest worker on the floor. He played half of the 2007-08 season with a fractured finger on his shooting hand and still won the MVP Award and led the Lakers to The Finals. At 34 last season, he averaged the second-most minutes per game in the league last season — trailing only rookie Damian Lillard — until tearing an Achilles tendon on April 12. So then he just took to Twitter from his sickbed to critique his teammates. It’s supposed to take nine months to a year to come back from Achilles surgery, but Bryant plans to tear up the calendar.

John Stockton Another one of those with a choirboy face who might have kept a pair of brass knuckles under his robe. Trying to get him to change his expression was as fruitless as banging your head against a brick wall. His Jazz teammate, The Mailman, had all those big, bulging muscles. But Stockton was equally as strong in competing with the stubbornness and dependability of a mule. Durability is a mark of greatness and in 19 seasons Stockton missed only 22 of a possible 1526 games due to injury. He never drew attention to himself by dribbling behind his back or through his legs, mostly throwing bounce passes that led to layups that were mind-numbingly effective and oh-so-deadly. He was also widely known throughout the NBA for using his 6-foot-1 body — OK, and occasionally his elbows — to set picks on opposing big men. Stockton never went looking for trouble or fights and rarely was involved in trouble, but night in night out he had the strong jaws and voracious appetite of a pit bull.

Clyde Drexler Oh, how nicknames can be deceiving. Clyde the Glide practically slides across the tongue like ice cream on a hot summer day. But it’s a lot like calling the fat kid in the crowd “Slim” or the tall guy “Shorty.” Maybe it was the fact that from the time he was a star in on the University of Houston’s Phi Slama Jama team all the way through his 15-year NBA career in Portland and Houston, the TV screens were filled with images of him floating effortlessly to the basket. In reality, he was as sharp and cutting as razor wire. He went down onto the floor for loose balls and into the crowds of tall trees to come away with the toughest rebounds. He would slice through the narrowest opening to get to the hoop for a critical bucket. He would use arms, legs, elbows — any means possible — at the defensive end, all the while with a smile on his face that belied how much he wanted to destroy you. The defending champion Rockets were down 3-1 in the 1995 conference semifinals, facing elimination and when his teammates entered the locker room, Drexler was stretched out on a table connected to IV bottles. He had the flu and nobody thought he would play. But Drexler dragged himself out onto the court and, though he could not manage a single field goal in the game, played 32 hard and inspirational minutes to spark a Rockets win that started a comeback to their second straight title.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 130): The Hall Of Fame Debate … A.I. In, T-Mac Out?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Allen Iverson is a lock, a no-brainer, an absolute shoo-in for a spot in the Naismith Hall o Fame when he becomes eligible. Tracy McGrady, on the other hand, might have to wait a while to see if he gets the call.

That seems to be the general consensus after the two former superstars announced their retirements during the past week.

While the cases for and against both Iverson and McGrady seem pretty clear-cut, there are other current players whose Hall of Fame futures require much more examination, an endeavor we were glad to undertake on Episode 130 of the Hang Time Podcast. Superstars like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are also locks for Springfield. But what about players like Chauncey Billups, who owns a Finals MVP and stellar career numbers but spent the early part of his career bouncing around the league?

What do we do with Grant Hill and Glen Rice, guys with Hall of Fame credentials dating back to their championship college careers, but come with an asterisk (injuries cost Hill some of his best years and Rice won a title and was a multiple time All-Star but was never what you would call a true superstar during his NBA career)?

And what of Robert Horry, a man with more championship rings (7) than Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Shaquille O’Neal and plenty of the other luminaries who piled up both the individual and team honors necessary for a place in the Hall of Fame. Surely there has to be a place in Springfield for a player who was an integral part of seven different championship teams, shouldn’t there be?

We dive in on all that and a whole lot more on Episode 130 of the Hang Time Podcast, The Hall of Fame Debate …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.





T-Mac Provided Sizzle, Little Substance

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HANG TIME, Texas —
When word spread that Tracy McGrady had announced his retirement, how many folks went straight to YouTube?

There were those 13 sizzling points in 35 sensational seconds that defined a career. Memorable and yet fleeting.

For 16 tantalizing NBA seasons, he was never the main event in the center ring under the big top when championships were to be decided, but always in a booth just outside on the carny midway — T-Mac next to the bearded lady.

Oh, there was never any doubting his ability to put the ball into the basket from any angle and from anyplace on the court. He was a deft and willing passer, could be a strong rebounder for a guard and could get after it defensively out on the wings.

Yet after all those years we’re left with a legacy that is lighter than cotton candy and with just as much substance.

While making the announcement on ESPN and looking back on his career, McGrady made the Hall of Fame case for himself that at one point in their careers there was debate about whether he or Kobe Bryant was the better player. And that is exactly the point, there came a fork in the road and their resumes went in distinctly different directions.

The price of admission to the Hall of Fame should not merely be the gaudy jewelry of a championship ring. But it should matter that a perennial All-Star performer, a franchise’s foundational player lifts his team up in the playoffs and, despite a scoring average that often increased in the playoffs, McGrady could not do that. Not in Orlando, not in Houston, where he had his chances.

Until he was a decorative ribbon on the Spurs’ machine as they marched to The Finals last spring, McGrady was the only NBA scoring champion (two times) to never advance past the first round of the playoffs.

For all of the improbable 3-point shots he made, high-rising slam dunks he threw down, thread-the-needle passes that he delivered right on the money, what McGrady could never do was close the deal. He was the front man of teams that blew 3-1 leads in Orlando and Houston and another pair of 2-0 leads with the Rockets.

“It’s all on me,” McGrady said prior to the 2007 series against the Jazz.

“It was never on me,” he said when the Rockets lost.

McGrady never understood how or what it meant to lead, even though he pretended to embrace the role.

It is not enough to say that, because another prolific scorer from another era — Walt Bellamy – was eventually voted into the Hall of Fame, McGrady should be, too. It would be wiser to see Bellamy’s inclusion as a mistake and move on.

Indeed, there were injuries to his back and knees. But there was an ugly end to McGrady’s tenure in Orlando when he sat out the end of a 21-61 season and the microfracture surgery that signaled the end of his relevance as a star or even as a starter in Houston came again with much recrimination and little remorse.

How very fitting then, for comparison’s sake, that McGrady’s retirement comes within days of Allen Iverson calling an end to his career. They entered the NBA a year apart and for nearly a decade they were the yin and the yang of the league for nearly a decade. Passion and passivity. Fire and ice.

Iverson was the rail-thin waif that seemed to be held together by pipe cleaners who threw himself into every game he ever played and constantly went crashing to the floor like grandma’s finest china, only to always pick up the pieces and come back even stronger. Iverson was voted MVP of the league in 2001 when he carried the Sixers to The Finals with an indomitable will. McGrady was cooler than an ice cube, but just as prone to melt.

The Hall of Fame should be a place for enduring greatness, a career masterpiece like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

We looked up at T-Mac like fireworks on the Fourth of July. Oooh, isn’t that pretty?

Good thing we’ll have those 13 points in 35 seconds on YouTube to remember him.

T-Mac Calls It Quits, Retires From NBA





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Tracy McGrady‘s NBA career is over, by his own volition.

The seven-time All-Star, seven-time All-NBA pick and two-time scoring champ closed the door this morning on ESPN’s First Take, announcing that he was “officially” retiring from the NBA after 16 seasons in the league. He did say he was leaving the door open to opportunities in China, but said he was done playing bit parts on NBA teams.

He spent a decade as a franchise player in Orlando and Houston but knee issues derailed his career. He played in New York, Detroit and Atlanta in his final three full seasons in the league.

McGrady began the 2012-13 season with the Qingdao Eagles of the Chinese Basketball Association, where he averaged 25 ppg, 7.2 rpg and 5.1 apg on a last-place team. He joined the San Antonio Spurs during their playoff run that ended in The Finals last season. He was 30 seconds away in Game 6 from earning the NBA title and ring that eluded him his entire career.

His announcement comes on the heels of the retirement of another one of the marquee players of his generation. Allen Iverson announced his retirement last week.

While Iverson should be a lock, the Hall of Fame debate for McGrady will crank up now. If you go by the numbers alone, McGrady should also be a lock. He even mentioned as much on the air this morning, pointing out that during his prime there was an ongoing conversation among basketball insiders and fans as to who was the better player: McGrady or Kobe Bryant.

Of course, Bryant has an edge in championships (5-0) that McGrady will never overcome. But there once was a legitimate debate as to who was going to be a better player between himself, Kobe and Vince Carter during the early stages of their respective careers.

McGrady and Carter never did enjoy the team or playoff success that Bryant did, ending that debate years ago.

Still, McGrady’s transcendent talent and jaw-dropping exploits when he at his zenith (check his highlights above) leave no doubt that he was one of the most unusual talents to ever grace a NBA floor.

A 6-foot-9 shooting guard with otherworldly athleticism, shooting range basically anywhere in the arena and the passing ability most point guards could only dream of, McGrady entered the league straight out of high school as the ninth overall pick to Toronto in the 1997 Draft. He leaves with a Hall of Fame worthy body of work, even it was marred by injuries and postseason failures.

Iverson: The Uncomfortable Answer

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HANG TIME, Texas – He stood there at mid-court cradling the Most Valuable Player trophy and the transformation was complete.

Not quite a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, because Allen Iverson never would be described as something so light and delicate. But just as dramatic and, maybe, just as natural.

It was as jarring a sight that night at the 2001 NBA All-Star Game in Washington, D.C., perhaps, as seeing Mike Tyson in a set of tights with the Bolshoi Ballet or having the chiseled visage of Richard Nixon join the great ones high up on Mt. Rushmore.

Yet this was the way it had to be if his game, his league, his sport was to have continued hope to grow and flourish. For 14 seasons, people said Iverson was the changing face of the league — and that was not always meant in a good way.

But tattoos are only skin deep. Hairstyles change and grow, just like people.

The recent news that Iverson planned to announce his official retirement brought back a sudden rush of so many memories of the will-o’-the-wisp guard who broke ankles, broke protocol and broke the mold of what a little man could do.

He was Rookie of the Year (1997), MVP (2001), a four-time scoring champion, three-time steals leader, three-time All-NBA First Team member and twice was given the top prize at the All-Star Game. The first time, the award came for his performance in the nation’s capital when Iverson showed that behind the hip-hop persona of a modern player was an old-fashioned pro who simply lived and loved to compete.

The player whose reputation would a year later become eternally stamped by a rant about “Practice!?” was the ultimate gamer who brought the Eastern Conference from 21 points down in the fourth quarter of an exhibition game because, well, if you’re gonna play, you might as well try to win.

Iverson’s style was always far less an artistic display and much more a competitive exercise, as if there was something to prove. And there was. The guy who had been called “Me-Myself-and-Iverson” spent much of his career, as he’s spent most of his troubled life, listening to people doubt not only his motives, but what’s inside his heart.

He came into the league wearing tattoos and cornrows and bandanas and traveling with his posse. He put himself into the center of a storm with his caught-on-national-TV microphones slur about sexual preference to a heckling fan in Indiana.

Iverson was as far removed image-wise as one could get and still live on the same planet as two of the three players who preceded him in winning his first All-Star MVP trophy — the quietly purposeful Tim Duncan and the regal Michael Jordan.

He was the foam on the front of the new wave.

“I’m one of them,” Iverson said, “but I’m also me.”

For just over a decade that’s who the demanding, discriminating Philadelphia fans got to see: the fearless competitor, the tough nut that wouldn’t crack, the lump of coal that used the intense pressure to transform himself into a diamond.

A few months later, Iverson would willfully, sometimes it seemed singlehandedly, drag the Sixers to the NBA Finals and earn his due respect from the public at large. However, it was that game amid other All-Stars when he demonstrated to the masses what, behind the perception, was his reality.

In those flashing, brilliant final minutes when Iverson was everywhere on the floor, making steals, setting up fast breaks, scoring on twisting, jack-knifing drives, he could have been a player from any era, no different from Bob Cousy, Bob Pettit, Julius Erving, Willis Reed, Walt Frazier and the other greats who had been introduced to the crowd at halftime.

He looked and acted different, this new kid, like new kids always have. They make us uncomfortable, force us to look at things from a different perspective. But what it was about that day was showing that many things never change on the inside, no matter how they’re packaged. Competitors compete.

Sometimes the torch is passed and sometimes it is a wild spark that burns down the forest to make room for new growth.

He was never going to be Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell. You were asking too much to replace that. They laid the foundation, established the game in the consciousness of a worldwide audience. They made it possible for the next generation to follow in their footsteps even if it meant never wearing their shoes.

The question, of course, is always: What comes next?

Allen Iverson was always The Answer, even when we didn’t know it yet.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 129) Featuring Damaris Lewis and Marc J. Spears

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Don’t look at the calendar and assume that just because we are still months away from regular season games that there’s nothing to talk about.

That’s not the way we roll here at headquarters. There’s plenty of news (Allen Iverson‘s pending and “official” retirement, the comebacks of Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Danny Granger and others, Jeremy Lin suggesting that his coaches in Houston lost faith in him last season, the mounting pressure on Blake Griffin in Los Angeles, etc.) and views to be had with our guests.

Super model and “Brooklyn to the bone” hoops fan Damaris Lewis and Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Marc J. Spears don’t hold back in their assessments of what’s gone on this summer and what  could be in store for us all during the 2013-14 NBA season.

There will be no Nets takeover of New York, says Lewis, and the Indiana Pacers might be “pound-for-pound” better than the Miami Heat right now, per Spears.

We dig into that and a whole lot more on Episode 129 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Damaris Lewis and Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Report: A.I. ‘Officially’ Ready To Retire



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Father Time always wins. Not even the all-time greats can survive his pull.

Allen Iverson will become his latest victim sometime this week, with sources telling SLAM Magazine that the former Philadelphia 76ers star will “officially” retire later this week.

It’s strictly a formality at this point for Iverson, who has not played significant minutes in the NBA since 2010 with the 76ers. His last game action professionally was in Turkey in 2011.

One of the league’s most popular players during the height of his NBA career, Iverson closes the door on his career as one of the game’s greatest scorers and one of the best 6-foot and under to ever wear a NBA uniform.

But it was clear months ago that he was prepared for this moment, per SLAM’s Tzvi Twersky:

When he last spoke publicly, at a Sixers game on March 30, Iverson answered a question about continuing his career by saying, “My No. 1 goal is trying to accomplish to be the best dad that I can. And if basketball is in my near future, then God will make that happen. But if not, I had a great ride and I’ve done a lot of special things that a lot of guys have not been able to accomplish and people thought I couldn’t accomplish.”

Included amongst those accomplishments are: 13-year career averages of 41.1 mpg, 26.7 ppg, 6.2 apg and 2.2 spg; 71-game playoff averages of 45.1 mpg, 29.7 ppg, 6.0 apg and 2.1 spg. He also won one regular-season MVP award, four scoring titles and was named an All-Star 11 times. Maybe most impressive of all, omitting the obvious impact that he had on the culture off-court, was the resilience that the 6-foot guard showed in driving into the lane, into men a foot taller than him, time and time again.

“He might be the greatest athlete I’ve ever seen,” Larry Brown, Iverson’s coach from 1997-2003 and the current coach at SMU, told SLAM today. “I don’t think there’ll be another one like him.

“I’m sure we faced a lot of obstacles, maybe even on a daily basis, but when it came time to play, to try to win a game, he tried to play as hard as he could for his coach.”

It’s hard to put Iverson’s career into words for those of us who witnessed his rise from two-sport (football) high school phenom to future Hall of Famer. Few players in the history of the game, drew the attention of fans worldwide the way Iverson did during his best days.

When he does make his retirement official, my main man Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All Ball Blog and formerly of SLAM will reflect on Iverson’s impact on the game and hops culture.