SPORTS

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July 26, 2002

A.I.'s woes not part of the plan

With luxury tax concerns taking away oxygen from the flame that is off-season trade and free-agent activity in the NBA, basketball news updates are filling the news vacuum with the biggest piece of dirt they can find: Allen Iverson's legal trouble. Though player movement varies from season to season, Iverson's on-again-off-again flirtation with a stint in the state penitentiary is the only entertainment NBA fans can count on deriving from the league during the summer months. Many fans, myself included, are not surprised by the latest chapter in Iverson's self destructive campaign. In place of surprise, I find myself shaking my head at the incredible stupidity that leads Iverson away from his 2.4 million-dollar home in Philadelphia and towards a jail cell.

Iverson's life is a true rags-to-riches journey. Confronted with his family's desperate economic status, Iverson swore to himself that he would make it to the NBA and pull them out of poverty. His capability to follow through on the promise seems obvious now, but one must remember how bold of an aspiration an NBA career is for someone who stands just a shade over six feet tall. Iverson formulated "The Plan," which drove him to be successful at basketball, and, by allowing his family to live in luxury instead of squalor, served as the vehicle for his happiness.

Now that Iverson has completed "The Plan"—Reebok just signed him to a lifetime contract, which should provide him with a steady and exorbitant income forever—he seems to have forgotten that his strict adherence to "The Plan" is what led to its achievement. In his forgetfulness, Iverson has taken a detour, and returned to the lifestyle and life choices that precisely lead in the direction he wished to escape.

Iverson's proponents cry foul, claiming that the press is giving Iverson a "bad rap," insinuating that because he is a public figure, he is held to a higher standard than most people. Iverson's mother, serving as his spokeswoman, has highlighted the shady pasts of those who accuse Iverson of threatening them. Iverson's mother says that she knows what type of person her son is and that the truth will come out. Unfortunately, two summers ago, the public got a little too close to the "type of person" that Iverson is. In another "bad rap" associated with Iverson he insulted woman and homosexuals on a CD that was never released. Yes, Iverson is a public person, with all the scrutiny this comes with, but we are not applying a higher standard to his conduct.

Instead, Iverson just is more visible in doing things that no person in society should find acceptable. And yes, he is very well compensated for this lifestyle. Just as society's high valuation of sport allow him to make a large sum of money, society's values also dictate that we expect our athletes as individuals to be public people. This prioritization, and the symptomatic fame of individual athletes in team sports, allows Iverson and other athletes to supplement their incomes with advertising contracts.

This success is now in jeopardy. As long as Iverson played according to society's rules, he was an acceptable "sell" to advertisers and the executives of the companies who shell out money for his ads. Though it is likely that most jersey-buyers will be unaffected by Iverson's legal troubles, their funding source—their parents—cannot be counted on by the league to shell out the money to buy jerseys bearing the name of a man who treats his wife and acquaintances the way Iverson allegedly has.

What I seem to be striking near and not really saying is that the NBA simply has too many thugs in its league. These players are great to watch on the court, but off the court, fans want to cringe every time they hear the conceited men talk and are disgusted with the lifestyles that the players lead. Ultimately, the high quality of basketball is not going to be enough, not for Iverson or anyone else in the league, and the fan base will begin to shrink until it is barely there at all. Perhaps then both commissioner David Stern and the players will take notice and shape up. After all, for most of them it is all about the money, money which may not be there in a few years if players' off-court troubles continue.