OAKLAND, Calif. – The Memphis Grizzlies started their game against the Golden State Warriors with Allen Iverson(notes) still on the bench. And after the Grizzlies lost again, Iverson’s feelings about not starting also remained unchanged.
Iverson totaled 18 points, seven assists and four turnovers in a respectable 27-minute performance during the Grizzlies’ 113-105 loss on Wednesday. But while his playing time increased by 10 minutes from his debut two nights earlier in Sacramento, Iverson still wasn’t happy about two things:
He came off the bench.
And the Grizzlies lost.
No one, Iverson said, should be surprised by his frustration, even Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins.
“The focus is on it because everybody in this whole world knows that I have a problem with it,” Iverson said. “That’s why it’s an issue. It’s easy to say I’m selfish. My response to that is it’s something I’ve never done. And if we had success with us doing it than obviously I’d want to do it because we are winning basketball games. But if we had no success when we do it, than obviously I would have a bigger problem from the beginning.
“This media thing is so big. Coach played the game before. He’s seen the things that I’ve done. He knows that I’ve never come off the bench ever in my whole career. So he knows that’s something I’m not accustomed to or something I would want to do. He listens to talk radio and TV, what people say, family members, friends – everybody knows that it’s not something I want to do.”
Hollins was visibly frustrated while talking with reporters before the game. He initially said he didn’t want to discuss Iverson’s situation, but later answered some questions.
“My frustration is that I have to talk about Allen Iverson at every press setting,” Hollins said. “I want to talk about the Memphis Grizzlies and us as a team. And even when Allen was out, I was happy to talk about Allen. So, that’s my frustration. I just want to talk about the Memphis Grizzlies. If Allen plays well and you guys want to ask me about Allen, that’s great. Or if he plays poorly and you want to ask me how poorly he played, that’s great, too.
“But what he says and what he’s thinking? My job is to coach the team as a unit. I have to make decisions and all the players in that locker room are not going to be happy about it. But it’s my job to do the best that I can and if they don’t feel like I’m doing it than ownership is going to get rid of me and that’s the way it’s always been through history.”
Hollins didn’t speak to Iverson directly after the veteran guard voiced his initial frustration following Monday’s game. But another team official did tell Iverson he shouldn’t have been so quick to complain given that he had missed all of the preseason, in addition to the Grizzlies’ first three games, because of a hamstring injury.
“I know there are kids out there watching my every move, watching if I’m sitting over there pouting,” said Iverson, who had started all but five of his 832 games prior to last season. “My son is watching the same thing. I don’t want to be no guy that is causing the distraction to this squad. But everybody knows I’d be fake if I said, ‘I’m so happy with everything that’s going on.’ It would be too fake. I wouldn’t play that game.”
Iverson isn’t surprised his frustration has become a big story. His stay with the Detroit Pistons was cut short last season after he said he would rather retire than play a reserve role.
“If Allen Iverson says something that anybody doesn’t agree with, yes, it’s a big deal,” Iverson said. “That’s what [the media] loves, man. Like I said a million times, it ain’t no good story if it’s a positive story on Allen Iverson. You don’t want to do nothing about me for no charity or nothing like that. You blow it up or something like that. It sells, don’t it? Well, in this country it does.
“I talked to [reporters] for 30 minutes [in Sacramento], and the only thing that came out of it was about my butt being on the bench. Worldwide, it’s the negative comments. If I talk to somebody for 30 minutes and I’m borderline negative on anything I talk about, they’re going to write that story about that quote that I made. They’re not going to write anything about anything else. I would think at this point in my career that stuff would get old. But it don’t.
“As bad as people want me to be some selfish guy or selfish person, I signed here and came here to help these guys win basketball games. It’s a young team. There is a lot of talent on the team, and I just feel like I can help, and I will continue to do that.”
The Grizzlies signed Iverson to a one-year, $3 million contract after being the only NBA team to express serious interest in him. Even so, Iverson said he wouldn’t have been comfortable coming to Memphis if he thought winning wasn’t a priority. The Grizzlies, who are the league’s youngest team, dropped to 1-4 with the Golden State loss.
“Do we want to develop kids or do we want to win basketball games?” Iverson said. “Obviously, the development will come with playing and practice and being in an NBA environment. But do we want to win basketball games? I think that’s the most important thing. From everything that I’ve experienced from being in the NBA, guys want to win basketball games. Guys want to hold that trophy up at the end of the year. That’s what we lace them up for.
“Now if they would have told me … even when I was 21 coming into the league, that, ‘This is a rebuilding process Allen, we’re not trying to win right now, we’re going to try to develop you and the other young guys,’ it wouldn’t have sat well with me.
“From day one with any team I’m on, I want to win. I want to win basketball games. That’s why I play the game. I hate losing more than I like winning.”
The week hasn’t gone smoothly for the Grizzlies. Mayo called out forward Rudy Gay(notes) for his defense after a loss in Denver on Sunday. The following night, Iverson made his debut then complained about not starting after the Grizzlies lost in overtime to Sacramento. After Memphis yielded 113 points to the Warriors on Wednesday, Hollins barked, “It’s defense, [expletive] defense that done us in, OK?”
Through it all, the Grizzlies continue to try to acclimate to Iverson, if not he to them.
“We’re in a getting-to-know-you-type stage,” Memphis general manager Chris Wallace said. “What we should have been able to do in the preseason we’re doing in the regular season. We’re trying to make up for lost ground right now.”