Former Philadelphia 76ers President Pat Croce is a known self-promoter and provocateur, so we debated as to whether or not to pass along this anecdote, but even if it’s only full of half-truths his interview with Jared Zwerling at Bleacher Report is worth sharing.
Croce, who basically ran the Sixers from 1996 to 2001 before moving on from the team, worked through both the pain and pleasure of having to act as the voice of reason in the ever-embroilin’ Allen Iverson and Larry Brown era. Brown was hired by Croce to coach the Sixers in 1997 after Iverson basically walked all over former head man Johnny Davis in his rookie season, and though the two butted heads incessantly until Brown walked away in 2003, the team did make the playoffs in all but one of their years spent together, ascending to the NBA Finals in 2001.
Not before the two went after each other time and time again, though. During the duo’s third season together, the one prior to the term that saw Philadelphia make the final round, Croce claims that he had to act as mediator during a rather aggressive combative argument between Brown and Iverson.
There was the one time when Larry Brown called me and Iverson called me because (Brown) sat him on the bench in Detroit—I wasn't there—and I got a call that night because I saw that he sat him. And I heard there was a blast on the bus and Larry Brown wanted him traded the next day. And Iverson called me, which was rare, and he wanted him fired. So I said, "We'll meet in the conference room at the practice facility." And all the team is waiting outside the glass with the assistant coaches, and inside the room was Larry Brown on one side of the table, Allen Iverson and me on the other side and Billy King toward the end of the table. And I think Tony DiLeo, our scouting director, was also there.
It was really ugly, like really. Allen came in ready to kill someone. I've never seen him in such a foul mood. He wanted no part with this coach, none. This was my fourth year and (Brown's) third year. It got really ugly, and I remember saying—to this day, I don't think Larry Brown likes me because of this, because I made him sit down in this meeting, but it was the catalyst that turned our whole world around—"You two, I'm not going to trade him, Larry, and I'm not going to fire you. There's no way." I said, "You guys don't understand. You both are so talented, the best of what you do in your business. You're so headstrong. If you were to look in the mirror, you'd see each other. You both have a common goal; you just go about it in different ways."
With that I said, "Allen, the coach doesn't like when you motherf--k him when he takes you out of the game. That's disrespectful. Would you do that to your father or to your mother?" And he looked at me and he said, "No." I said, "I don't care how much you want to play; it's the coach's plan whether you play or not." I looked at coach and said, "Larry, Allen doesn't like when you treat him like the white prison guard that says, 'Sit down, n----r.' " And Larry went, "What?" He looked at me and I said, "That's what (Iverson) said. He said he feels that you are disrespecting him." So they both were looking at each other. I said, "You both are looking at each other in a wrong way."
Croce went on to say that Iverson made a point to cross to the other end of the table to hug Brown, and all was saved.
Until a few months after that, of course, when the Pistons and 76ers (with Brown and LB crony Billy King in the lead) signed off on a three-team deal sending Iverson to Detroit. AI would have been a goner had Sixers center Matt Geiger not got in the way – he needed to waive a 15 percent trade kicker in his contract to make the deal cap legal, and he refused.
The Sixers entered 2000-01 under the cloud of that failed deal and the controversy behind Iverson’s never-released but much-leaked (in the days of Napster) rap album, one that featured f-bombs of many different kinds, a work of art that forced David Stern to schedule a personal preseason meeting with his league’s preeminent Eastern Conference star in order to make sure everything was on the up and up.
Philadelphia started that season with a 10 game winning streak, but by the second month Brown had to step away from the 76ers citing personal reasons and exhaustion. By midseason it was apparent that pairing Iverson with secondary offensive semi-stars (through the years: Jerry Stackhouse, Jim Jackson, Derrick Coleman, Larry Hughes, Toni Kukoc) just wasn’t working. Iverson was useless off the ball offensively, and he needed to dominate the rock amid a crew of defensive-minded non-scorers.
Dominate he did, after the Sixers traded Kukoc and Theo Ratliff for Dikembe Mutombo, winning the league’s MVP in a controversial vote, and squeaking past both Toronto and Milwaukee in a weak Eastern Conference bracket on his team’s way to its first Finals appearance in 18 years. Famously, AI would just about single-handedly (though the ice bath Mutombo took following the game would probably disagree) steal Game 1 of the Finals from the Los Angeles Lakers – the defending champs’ first and only loss of what would turn into their second consecutive NBA title.
At least Iverson got Tyronn Lue:
That crossover would be Iverson’s highlight as a professional. Iverson and Brown fell out again in 2001-02, with Iverson routinely late for practices and shootarounds – sometimes not showing up at all – in a season that ended with a first round loss at the hands of the Boston Celtics. The two clashed again in 2002-03, with Brown finally leaving the team (as is his custom) to join the same Detroit Pistons team that had defeated Philadelphia in the second round.
Brown went on to a Finals win in 2004, the New York Knicks, Charlotte Bobcats, and a head coaching gig at SMU following that. Iverson literally walked out on the Philadelphia 76ers in 2006, forcing a trade to the Denver Nuggets. He somewhat flourished there before being dealt to the Pistons in 2008. Iverson again walked out on Detroit late in 2008-09 before hooking up with Memphis in 2009 before (let’s just paste this in once again) walking out on the Grizzlies early into the 2009-10 season. Given one last reprieve by Philadelphia to join a young Sixers squad later that year, Iverson again walked out on the team that recently retired his number before the season ended, effectively ending his NBA career.
Pat Croce has gone on to enjoy a lucrative career as a motivational speaker, and he has written several books about pirates.
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