Allen Iverson and Billy King in a conversation that probably went really well (Getty Images)
Ever the risk-taker, Billy King has received some criticism for his stewardship as the very plugged-in GM of the Brooklyn Nets. He's been given nearly full autonomy to use owner Mikhail Prokhorov's significant and luxury tax-defying wealth to rebuild the team in preparation for its star turn in the city that never sleeps (or, at least, the borough that never shaves), and the results are still out as to whether or not his work in creating this Deron Williams-helmed monster will be worth the price. Of course, all of this is gravy to the former Philadelphia 76ers boss, who at times had to serve under the relative whims and moans of star Allen Iverson, and coach Larry Brown.
In an interview with the New York Times, King recalls the time he straight up resigned from the Sixers following Iverson's infamous rant about practice, how his idea to put his two stars on record at the podium backfired, and how a belt of something brown helped him find his way back to the team. From an interview with Andrew Goldman (whose questions are bolded):
You were president of the Philadelphia 76ers when Allen Iverson went on his famous rant at a news conference, responding to criticism that he was skipping practice. What was the back story?
Larry Brown had said he couldn't coach Allen anymore. Allen said he couldn't play for Larry, so they had a meeting to clear the air. After the meeting, I thought, Let's do a press conference so that everybody knows they're on one page. We did the press conference, and it becomes legendary. You can go online. Everybody imitates it.
It went on for half an hour on live TV. How did you feel?
I called [then-76ers owner] Ed Snider and resigned because I said, This is a disaster. Later, Ed said you're not resigning. I went to the Palm, had some Scotch, and I'm thinking, both of these guys are making a lot more money than I am, they're in a good situation and this is what I'm dealing with.
There's still a lot to criticize King for, here. Even if he has our deepest, deepest sympathies.
Putting Brown and Iverson in separate and back-to-back press conferences after a disappointing season (the Sixers had made the NBA Finals the year before, only to bow out in the first round in 2002 as an offseason roster shakeup and evolving Eastern conference caught up with the team) and that afternoon's nasty exit meetings? Probably not the right idea. It's true that there was significant pressure on the 76ers to answer questions behind Iverson and Brown's relationship — even a time zone away and decade's worth of technology removed we were still following it on the internet and cable TV that day well before AI went to the podium — but that stuff tends to dissipate.
Not completely dissipate, but enough to make the silence worth it. You disappoint the beat writers and let your fans down by staying silent and letting Iverson skulk back to Virginia for the summer, but you don't risk anything with two self-aggrandizing livewires that want to win (AI, through all his faults, was a competitor) their own Way. Capital 'W.'
A story that would have been huge local news in the first week of May would have dimmed a bit as the days went on. Instead, in asking Brown and Iverson to play nice on record, King created a situation that we're still laughing at a decade later.
And he also created a situation that rightfully called for a wee bit of scotch. Possibly more than a wee bit, considering, y'know, Allen Iverson and Larry Brown and having to act like a babysitter for both in the first year that Blackberrys were a thing.
The Sixers never recovered. King continued to make the sort of win-now moves to keep both men happy, but 13 months later Brown had moved on to Detroit, and three and a half months later the Sixers finally gave up the ghost with Iverson (who had walked out on the team with the front office's blessing) and dealt him to Denver. King wouldn't last much longer in Philly, before taking on the role of rebuilding those Nets.
In his time with New Jersey/Brooklyn, some moves have paid off (sending numerous assets to Utah for free agent to-be Deron Williams), and some haven't (most other deals). Some weren't King's fault (Dwight Howard's opt-in with the Magic from last March), and some might have to be judged within the frame of Prokhorov's pocketbook (dealing for Joe Johnson, overpaying in free agent terms for Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries).
None of this, we're guessing, bothers King. He's dealt with worse. And for all of Iverson and Brown's brilliance, and all their hoped-for gigs either playing with or running an NBA team, it's worth noting that Billy King is the only one of the three still left standing.
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- Sports & Recreation
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