November 22, 2010
Watching Allen Iverson(notes) play for his Turkish team on Sunday afternoon was a bit like gawking at some quasi-celebrity working off their community service dues on the side of a highway. You wouldn't click the link unless you felt like it was your job to. I really wanted nothing to do with watching Allen Iverson struggle through a nearly scoreless debut in the Turkish League, but sometimes you have to pay attention just in case something semi-newsworthy happens. Which is why I now have a greater understanding as to why a television critic is forced to have a news alert for Charlie Sheen on his or her phone.
Monday, the Philadelphia Inquirer's very good 76ers beat writer Kate Fagan has gone a little deeper with AI-in-Turkey saga, traveling to Istanbul herself to take in what she and her editors likely thought would be a circus. Upon touching down in Turkey, though, a sideshow -- and little else -- resulted.
On game night inside BJK Akatlar Arena -- home court of Iverson's new team, the Besiktas Cola Turka Black Eagles -- the image of Iverson hysteria is pure and true, but the arena seats 3,200 in a city of about 13 million.
Iverson is not a sensation here, but rather an exciting curiosity for small pockets of basketball fans, playing for a club that doesn't even compete in Euroleague, Europe's most prestigious.
The 76ers' former all-everything guard is broke -- by all accounts except his own -- and playing here in Istanbul for a number of reasons, none of which is to become an ambassador for Turkey's solid, but often overlooked, professional league.
Ick. OK, glass half-full ...
This can be good, for all involved. Even if the rumors about his financial situation are just rumors (Fagan knows her stuff; so this is hoping against reason), AI can still bump up his bank account for a spell. And this "overlooked" professional league just watched as a litany of worldwide hoops fans tuned into NBA TV on an NFL Sunday and watched a couple of hours of its action.
And Iverson, unceremoniously divorced from teams in Philadelphia, Denver, Detroit, Memphis and Philadelphia again just in the last four years, can enjoy an experience he seemingly hasn't really gotten to bask in since, what, high school? He can be a teammate, again, with no worries beyond that day's practice. Even when things were going swimmingly with the 76ers, Iverson was still working under the frantic and dyspeptic Larry Brown, a coach who would dismiss a win in an instant if it came hand-in-hand with a missed rotation on a missed game-winning shot from the opposition.
In Turkey, the dude can just play. And make a little scratch. And, once the sensationalist (for us hoop nerds, at least) aspect goes away, he can do it under the non-gaze of relative anonymity. Next time his team hits NBA TV, we probably won't watch. The people watching NFL games were never going to watch, and NBA scouts seem understandably unenthused. So, again, AI can just play.
That's the hope, right?