It was a frustrating end to a frustrating season, and it created possibly the most famous end-of-season press conference of all time, if not the most famous press conference in NBA history. Allen Iverson, in the days following his Philadelphia 76ers' first-round exit, was more than upset at coach Larry Brown's contention that Iverson's lacking practice habits may have cost Philadelphia a chance at another Finals appearance, so he went off on the local media. In an infamous rant, he treated the word and premise of "practice" as if it were as inconsequential as choosing Gatorade over water or choosing fish over chicken as a pregame meal.
And all of it took place 10 years ago — May 7, 2002.
Ostensibly, Iverson's frustrations were taken out on longtime Philadelphia Daily News beat writer Phil Jasner, who was following up on coach Brown's specific criticism of both Iverson's practice habits and refusal to participate in some practices as he worked through the myriad injuries resultant from the combination of his aggressive play and wispy frame. And though Iverson took great delight in singling out Jasner (calling him "Phillip" repeatedly, in a typical bully move), his real anger was directed at Brown, clearly, and what he apparently thought was an anachronistic ideal that drew a direct line between all-out play in practice, and success on the court in games that mattered in the win/loss column.
In the decade since, not much has gone right for any of the participants — and that's not to make light and compare Jasner's 2010 passing with Iverson's frustrating NBA career or Brown's continued dalliances with team after team. That late-afternoon press conference seemed to act as a wakeup call for all involved; because both Brown and Iverson likely knew that the 76ers' unlikely run to the 2001 NBA Finals was more of an aberration and culmination of events in their favor than anything. Brown wasn't changing, Iverson obviously wasn't changing, and yet the league was growing up around them.
And for the Sixers to go from Finals participants in 2001 to first-round fodder just a year later seemed more of a reflection of the team's overall NBA standing than anything that happened a year prior. Backs against the wall, they vented.
Brown went first, complaining that he didn't know if he could coach a team past the first round if its star player wasn't interested in practicing hard, showing up to practice on time or practicing at all. It was a rare showing from an NBA coach — not only do most teams pass on creating end-of-season media availability sessions, but usually coaches who have to show up to camp in the fall with their star players pass on complaining about those players on record.
Brown, who is notorious for wanting half his team shipped elsewhere following a loss, didn't hesitate to complain about Iverson's habits. It makes sense, because even though he made the Finals with Iverson just 11 months prior, he was just 21 months removed from signing off on a deal that would have sent AI to Detroit in a package that would have netted the 76ers Jerry Stackhouse. Only Sixers center Matt Geiger's refusal to waive his trade kicker got in the way.
Iverson responded with an exasperated rant that was as transparent as it was telling. This was no act. He really didn't think practice meant a damn thing, relegating it to the sort of pointless pile he rightfully tossed questions about his hairstyle or dress habits into. The clip above is all you need to know exactly where he was coming from.
Things didn't turn around much the following year. Brown returned with Iverson in the fall, much to the likely chagrin of both parties, and they made it back to the second round of the playoffs before falling to the Detroit Pistons. Detroit, thinking that Brown's guidance would be the thing to push the Pistons over the top, fired Rick Carlisle soon after in order to hire Larry; though it's up for debate as to whether it was Brown's leadership that brought the Pistons to a championship in 2004 and Finals appearance in 2005, or the growing roster (with Chauncey Billups and Ben Wallace emerging, Tayshaun Prince past his rookie year, and the addition of Rasheed Wallace).
Iverson's first year without Brown was a failure, but again that may have had more to do with the dodgy roster that GM Billy King constructed around Iverson for the 2003-04 season. Philadelphia returned to the playoffs in 2005, falling to Brown's Pistons in the first round, and Iverson was traded to Denver midway through the 2005-06 season after taking a leave of absence from the 76ers a few weeks prior.
AI scored in bunches for Denver, but the team never took off until he was traded to Detroit for Chauncey Billups. Brown was gone by then, off to New York in 2005 and then the Charlotte Bobcats in 2008, and Iverson's time in Detroit ended with a leave of absence as well during the 2008-09 season, after he chafed at being asked to move to the bench on a guard-heavy Pistons team. Allen signed with Memphis the following offseason and, you guessed it, saw his time there end with a leave of absence after he chafed at being asked to move to the bench.
Allen signed with the Philadelphia 76ers later in the 2009-10 season. You'll never believe it, but his time with the Sixers ended with a leave of absence. He was not offered a contract to play in the NBA during the 2010-11 season.
This was the same season that Brown, frustrated by what he perceived to be inaction from Charlotte's front office, engineered a mutual separation from the Bobcats. Ten years removed from that combative late-afternoon media availability session in Philadelphia, both sides — intractable as ever — are completely off the NBA's radar. It's a shame, of course, but hardly surprising. It's hard to think on your feet and roll with the punches when your heels are dug in so deep.
Perhaps a cliché or mixed metaphor like that would have served either party better, back on May 7, 2002. It may have saved that relationship, for a time. It also wouldn't have been nearly as entertaining, though. Or as telling.