- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Allen Iverson is undergoing another round of primal scream therapy in public.

You are urged to cover your ears and try not to smirk.

Iverson is one for both the NBA and mental health books, ever combustible and misunderstood.

The misunderstanding is inevitably the fault of those who enter his world, either by accident or occupational necessity.

His latest triggering device is an interim coach, the sports appellation related to a vote of confidence.

Iverson recently felt inclined to play in a game, although only by his rules, a recurring point of contention in his life.

Chris Ford, the one entrusted with the thanklessness of the 76ers, believed it wise to bring the knee-plagued Iverson off the bench.

The disagreement led Iverson to enumerate his accomplishments after consigning himself to the bench.

The crisis, to play or not to play, is one of Iverson’s luxuries, as the lead player on a team that is yesteryear.

This falls in the company of Iverson’s mercurial practice habits, as Ford discovered in the initial hours of his interim position.

“Practice?” Iverson once said. “What’s that?”

Iverson is often granted a free pass from practice because of his fearlessness on the court, where he hurls his itty-bitty body into large objects. His defenders find absolution in this injury-induced proclivity, if as the cleansing water that washes away all the crud.

The messiness goes all the way back to Iverson’s schoolboy days in a bowling alley in Hampton, Va., to a misunderstanding that established a pattern.

Iverson is either the victim of incredibly bad luck or someone with a serious anger management issue.

The thinking around Iverson comes with a listing of his qualities, too numerous to cite and beside the point.

Nine good things do not counter the one bad, a stunted notion that rarely works with the police officer who has nabbed someone going 35 mph in a 25 mph zone.

Iverson, as the team’s self-appointed player/coach, is obsessed with respect. He is not unlike Rodney Dangerfield in this regard, only his lament is not implemented for laughs.

Iverson has talked himself out of an equitable trade.

Who wants his baggage of meltdowns, 30 shots a game and fat contract?

Iverson always has been a second-tier All-Star, despite his appeal on the street and with store owners who push NBA merchandise.

Never a pure shooter, Iverson is a scorer prone to lengthy streaks of misfires. His capacity to adapt to a traditional team is untested and uncertain. His teammates are obligated to suffer in silence.

As the misunderstandings accumulate with Iverson, the amount of desperation needed to move him increases.

A few 20-win teams could be that desperate in the summer, assuming they have enough unpolished jewels to entice Billy King.

Iverson was perhaps worth the heartburn in 2001, when the 76ers advanced to the NBA Finals. He even might have been worth it in the seasons when the 76ers could cling to the illusion of competence. He is hardly worth it now, the 76ers not even in the playoff mix after 71 games.

Iverson’s one-man show has flourished in part because of the inferior persistence of the Eastern Conference.

Iverson’s basketball reputation would have been considerably less imposing in the Western Conference. In fact, no clear-thinking general manager in the West would have allowed a team to be structured in the fashion of the 76ers. It just would not have worked beyond a 41-41 record.

For now, Iverson’s propensity to have misunderstandings with coaches, teammates, family members and the innocent is threatening to overtake the value of his athletic gifts.

His gifts carry a questionable shelf life, given his lack of size, dependency on quickness and increasing susceptibility to injury.

The failure of Iverson to adjust his philosophy, both on and off the court, is an omission that promises to spoil his goods sooner than necessary. He is coming up on his 29th birthday in June, hardly young in basketball years.

He is too old to be clashing with yet another coach, too old to be stuck in adolescence.

Iverson is as obsessed with being treated “like a man” as he is with being accorded respect.

Then again, with Iverson, who knows?

It all could be another misunderstanding.

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