- The Washington Times - Friday, May 10, 2002

Being Allen Iverson apparently is harder than it looks.

You are committed to 82 basketball games each season, plus a bunch of boring practices and team functions. Although you are compensated fairly well, the issue of compensation is relative. In the end, it is not about the money. Money cannot buy a person a sense of well-being. Everyone knows that.

If you are Iverson, your name is in the newspapers, and all the blowhards on television and radio discuss your contribution to humanity in great detail. Some of it is good, some of it bad, most of it chaff, this space included. Outside opinions, particularly in sports, are mostly harmless expressions, some, like this one, destined to wind up on the bottom of a birdcage.

Iverson is sensitive to a fault, for whatever reason, and lacks the armor to take the hits that inevitably strike those in the public domain. He feels each hit. Man, does he feel it. If a cross were made available to him, he undoubtedly would mount himself on it.

It almost seems as if Iverson would be more content in a profession in which he could say: "Would you like super fries with your order?"

This is not to suggest that Iverson would be limited to the food-service industry if he were not a professional basketball player, although his intellect seems unimpressive.

You can tell by his coach, Larry Brown, who has found fault again with his star player's practice habits. This is hardly new. The objection almost led to Iverson being traded to the Clippers two offseasons ago.

To quibble with Brown's decision to voice the complaint in public is to assume he has not tried everything else, including the utterance, "Pretty please."

The soap opera-like saga between Brown and Iverson really is this simple: Practice. Be all you can be in the NBA. Improve your shooting ability. Improve your vision on the floor. Utilize your teammates better. Work on your itty-bitty body. Maybe, with a stronger body, you would be less susceptible to injuries. Maybe not. That's not the point anyway. The point is this: maximize your gifts.

The NBA does not award bonus points to those who play hard or play hurt. Playing hard is expected. Playing hurt often falls in a gray area. Some players have no tolerance for pain. That is one of the criticisms levied against Vince Carter, and always by those, amusingly enough, who sit in a chair for a living and have the girth to prove it.

Iverson plays hard, and sometimes he plays through the hurt. He seems to think this is his absolution. Playing hard merely puts him in the company of most professional athletes, and playing hurt is immaterial.

Your employer might admire your fortitude to work with the flu. That quality also would be meaningless if you made a habit of showing up late to work.

Brown is in a tough spot. He can't win with Iverson. He can't win without him. The mediocrity of the Eastern Conference only adds to the convolution.

Brown and Iverson would not be having this discussion in the Western Conference. They would be part of a 35-win team in the West, and the hired hands with 35-win teams usually accept the premise that it can't be business as usual.

In the East, however, Iverson is under the illusion that his way is not half bad. He was the NBA's MVP last season, after all, and the 76ers advanced to the NBA Finals. Both circumstances were stoked by the modesty of the East, just as the modesty aided Jason Kidd's MVP candidacy this season.

Kidd never provoked such breathlessness while he was in Phoenix, although his numbers this season were comparable to his career numbers. The difference was the venue, the East vs. the West.

Iverson is a pathological ball hog, and in the East, at least in one season, that was good enough. Maybe it will be good enough again. But Brown is in charge of the big picture, and he merely is prodding Iverson to evolve as a player and accept that he won't always be quicker than his opponents.

Iverson, who turns 27 next month, is not a candidate to age gracefully at the moment. Even with his quickness, he already is an eyesore as the soloist who goes against the world, who performs the basketball equivalent of beating his head against the wall.

On the plus side, if it is Iverson's destiny to fall hard while enduring the protests of a coach and the distant chattering of others, that, on balance, is not such a bad fate.

It beats a whole lot of other endeavors.

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