- The Washington Times - Friday, July 28, 2000

Allen Iverson sometimes shows up late to practice, if he shows up at all, and he sometimes sulks if he is removed from a game, and he inevitably breaks out in a rash whenever he is in the vicinity of a weight room.

All this, of course, is the fault of Larry Brown, the insensitive coach of the 76ers.

Brown does not hug Iverson as much as he should. He does not ask the former Georgetown University star to go on moonlit walks with him. He never has bought the player a box of chocolates or a bouquet of flowers.

Being the unthinking, unfeeling coach that he is, Brown sets a practice time and then has the temerity to expect his players, not just Iverson, to be there on time.

This has led to all manner of discussion and hand-wringing in the city that once booed Santa Claus at an Eagles game. This also has led to general manager Billy King planting a telephone in his ear as he searches for someone to give Iverson the love and respect he so desperately needs.

Iverson has been the subject of a series of trade rumors since almost the moment the Pacers eliminated the 76ers in the playoffs, and the latest one, reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, involves 10 players, four teams and perhaps a number of silent prayers from Brown.

The three-year relationship between Brown and Iverson is said to be at an end, despite the gaudy credentials of both men and what should be a mutually beneficial alliance.

"Why should there be a rift between a coach and player if I ask [the player] to be on time to practice like everybody else and lift [weights] like everybody else and stretch like everybody else?" Brown said earlier this month.

That is a fair question, except perhaps in the make-believe world of professional sports, where, to reach a player, you have to go through layers of gatekeepers.

Iverson is keeping it real this summer with his posse, personal assistants, assorted hangers-on and flock of friends, Romans and countrymen in Hampton Roads.

You tend to attract a crowd if your contract is worth $70.9 million and you have the best tattoos, do-rags and gold accessories.

It is all about being who you are, even if who you are is hopelessly trite, merely a conditioned response to popular culture.

Iverson has let it be known that it would be "very, very hard" to play again for Brown, even at $9 million a season.

This was after Iverson had sought the counsel of Magic Johnson, who gave up on the headaches of coaching after 16 games.

Johnson's advice to Iverson: Show up to practice on time. Show your teammates that you are as committed as them to the grunt work and sweat. Build your body up, so it won't be as apt to wear down. Become a genuine leader.

Unfortunately, Iverson is still trying to come to terms with the news the 76ers were willing to peddle him to the Clippers in exchange for Lamar Odom before the NBA Draft.

That deal did not go down only because Clippers owner Donald T. Sterling never has met a player he really wants to pay.

So Iverson and Brown remain stuck with one another for the moment, although King's phone lines are open.

Brown is not going anywhere after signing a contract extension in March and briefly flirting with North Carolina several weeks ago.

Iverson, meanwhile, is tending to his wounded ego in southern Virginia, trying to figure it out.

He led the NBA in scoring two seasons ago and was No. 2 in scoring behind Shaquille O'Neal at 28.4 points last season. He plays hurt, he plays hard, and he has led the 76ers to a certain respectability.

But is the second round of the playoffs as good as it gets with a player as singularly devoted as Iverson? Does his excellence come at the exclusion of others, as Jerry Stackhouse, Larry Hughes and Toni Kukoc could attest?

Brown and the 76ers undoubtedly have pondered these questions, and their summer-long willingness to peddle Iverson is revealing.

Maybe the so-called Answer is not the answer he thinks he is.

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