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Ball Don't Lie

Allen Iverson would like to play in China, if not the NBA

Eric Freeman
Ball Don't Lie

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Allen Iverson hangs with Chinese fans and Yao Ming in 2005 (China Photos/ Getty).

At various points over the past two years, we've described NBA legend Allen Iverson's attempts to find a roster spot. The days of The Answer's all-encompassing basketball celebrity are long gone — teams have decided that he never transitioned out of superstardom particularly well and consider him a less-than-stellar veteran presence. So while Iverson still harbors dreams of playing in the world's best league, he also realizes he probably has to ply his trade at another level of the game.

Not all those options are bad, though. In fact, A.I. claims to have plans to play in China if the NBA doesn't come calling. From the Chinese publication NetEase, as translated by HoopsHype (via PBT):

Iverson replied: "I definitely want to return to the NBA, but if I can't get back there, I'm hoping to play ball here (China)."

With regards to his team of choice, Iverson chose to reply obliquely, saying: "I'm not leaning towards any one team, and there's no 'first choice' like what the others say." However, Iverson points to the CBA as one of his backup options. "China is still one of my choices, but the team that wants me to join has got to show me that they really mean it, like 'hey we really need you'."

The China Basketball Association would be a terrific choice for Iverson, and not just because his infamous practice rant would combine with teams' attendance policies for some amazing tabloid stories. In his prime, Iverson was among the most popular players in the country, impressing Chinese fans with his toughness and perseverance despite being the smallest player on the court at virtually all times. Given the way that China has warmed to former NBA All-Star Stephon Marbury, a player much less well remembered than Iverson, it's likely that A.I. would be an interstellar sensation if he chose to play in the CBA.

[Related: Mexican team tries to lure Shaquille O'Neal back to the court]

However, these quotes suggest that Iverson would not be content treating a career in China as a functional victory lap for a job well done in the NBA. If his primary concern is to feel wanted as a basketball player, then Iverson clearly still considers himself to be a valuable talent with the ability to help a franchise towards very real goals. Playing in China wouldn't be a branding opportunity, as Marbury has seemed to treat it, but another chapter in the saga of Iverson the athlete.

There's a certain irrationality to this approach, the same lack of long-term perspective that made the end of Iverson's NBA career a disappointment. Yet, while his pride and self-reliance make Iverson a problematic player at this stage in his career, they are also admirable qualities in isolation. For better and worse, Iverson has remained the same person he was when he became a thrilling, divisive presence in the mid-to-late '90s. He may no longer be especially relevant to the basketball world, but the qualities that made him such an important figure in the history of the NBA are still very much alive. He will remain genuine to the very end.

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