I respect the impact he's had on the game from a pure basketball standpoint as well as a cultural/style standpoint. From the moment he crossed up Michael Jordan at the top of the key during his mini-'fro'd rookie season, the kid put the league on notice that he was going to be a force.
My connection to the volatile guard goes back even further than that. Believe or not (and I suspect many of you won't, but that's OK), we once ran in the same metro D.C.-area summer leagues and what is now AAU tournaments. Of course, that, for me, was 40 pounds and 15 years ago. OK, 45 pounds.
Yes, a long, long, long time ago. At least on this end. I only wish for Iverson's sake that his career would end far better than it apparently is going to after Monday's news that he's agreed to terminate his one-year contract with the Memphis Grizzlies. Iverson left the team a week ago after a fall out with coach Lionel Hollins over his role and to attend to a legitimate personal matter.
But it was over before it ever really started on Beale Street for A.I.
Now, I'm not sure if he's the answer for any team in the league. Not even at basement bargain, non-guaranteed contract prices. He's run his reputation into the ground. Only the Grizzlies were willing to gamble on him after the meltdown in Detroit last season.
Iverson was quite a polarizing topic among Heat fans over the summer when he launched his free-agency campaign at a charity function in Virginia, placing Miami atop his list of preferred destinations. I covered the event and spoke to Iverson at length about how things went down and how he planned to restore his image, show up at a camp and outwork everyone and become a force again in the league.
He was convincing. He even cried when he was asked about how his image has taken a beating throughout his career, mainly from misunderstandings and self-inflicted wounds. But the Heat was right for never allowing any interest in Iverson to simmer above luke-warm.
Because the same thing that happened in Memphis would probably have happened here, if not worse. Even with all of the respect/love Iverson said he has for Dwyane Wade and Pat Riley, it wouldn't have trumped the pride he carries in that barely 6-foot frame that is as tough as they've come in NBA history.
But there would have been a Shaq-sized tension in the locker room at the first sign of distress over his role behind Mario Chalmers. There would have been migraines throughout the coaching staff had second-year man Erik Spoelstra been in charge of soothing Iverson's ego and demands.
And after things ended sort of icy between D. Wade and Shaq a few years ago, Riley certainly couldn't afford to have another aging NBA legend taint the franchise in a year when the priority is to keep Wade happy and a pen handy for his signature at all times.
Yes, this Heat team still has some holes. And Iverson, now available again, still has some game left. But Miami is still 7-2 and in position to match the best 10-game start in franchise history thanks to the moves Pat Riley didn't make this summer. Sure, break down the record and you'll find two wins against the woeful Wizards, a pair against Big Apple-area busters and another against an Indiana team that put the "H" in horrible on the eve of Halloween.
But, as Wade said recently, "We're winning the games that we're supposed to win. Especially at home. Now, we'll find out a lot more about ourselves once we go out on the road."
More important, Miami is winning relatively headache free.
Now, there probably isn't one team that supports its coach or cares about chemistry in the locker room that would truly touch Iverson at this point. So I guess that leaves the Warriors, Nets, Knicks and Clippers among potential suitors.
As for Memphis, the Grizzlies traded in Iverson's baggage for Jamaal Tinsley's. The Heat is probably going to turn out right for shying away from Tinsley, too, despite the mixed messages his agent sent last summer regarding Miami's interest.
And if things don't work out with Tinsley in Memphis, we hear Latrell Sprewell is next on the Grizzlies list.
When it comes to Iverson and Tinsley, Riley was right for standing, well, pat.