Allen Iverson on his basketball future
Editor's note: Page 2's Scoop Jackson spoke with Memphis Grizzlies guard Allen Iverson earlier this week while the team was in Alabama for training camp. This is Part 2 of the interview -- click here to read Part 1.
Scoop Jackson: How did it feel after going through this summer? I mean, from the outside looking in, it looked like no team in the NBA wanted you. Did you get that feeling, that no one really wanted you?
Allen Iverson: No, I didn't get that feeling because my agent [Leon Rose] was always talking to me, telling me what was really going on. But it bothered me that [there weren't] more teams interested. And to me, honestly in my heart, I believe that somebody was talking to those teams and gave me a bad rap. Even worse than the one I have overall. You know, the stuff that everybody thinks they know about me. Just like when I was talking to the people at Memphis before I came here, they were saying to me that they'd heard this and they'd heard that about me. And I said to them, "That's all you heard?" (Laughs) "Man, I done heard a million more things about me than what you just said." Man, I've heard so many things that's not true about me, but that's me. I mean, [there are] so many rumors about me, about how I am, that are not true. I've always said, just go ask my teammates if you want to know about me. Go ask the guys that I've played with. Don't ask or get information about me from people who are not in the locker room or not around me all of the time. Then you'll get legit answers. Man, it was [exasperating], it was frustrating because I felt that a lot of teams that could have used me and knew they could use me didn't come at me. And I know that didn't have anything to do with basketball. Like I was going to be cancerous to a team.
Jackson: Did any of this stop you from taking the game for granted? Let me re-ask that: Have you ever taken the game for granted?
Iverson: I think everyone does at a young age. You know, when you're young, coming into the league, broke all of your life, coming from poverty, and somebody gives you a million dollars and you get famous all overnight, and you got the "yes men" around, guys that tell you that your s--- don't stink, and people pulling and tugging at you all the time, you feel cool about just going out and playing in the NBA. But after a while you finally realize that this ain't enough. You want to be on that level with those guys in the real wars, the playoff wars. After a while you start to feel like you deserve to be there. That you are supposed to be there. So yeah, I went through that stage where I felt like nobody [couldn't] tell me nothing. I'm 21, 22, 23 years old but I never took the game for granted as far as not having to work on what I needed to do to accomplish all of the things that I wanted to accomplish. I mean -- c'mon, man -- to accomplish all of the things that I've accomplished, there's no way you couldn't put in work.
Jackson: Now let me ask you this: When Denver started winning once you were gone, do you think that hurt your value? Especially in the playoffs. Did that make GMs and owners around the league look at the Nuggets' success and say "This is what a team can do without Iverson"? Do you think that that played a role in how teams began to look at you?
Iverson: I love to answer that question. Because you have to look at the situation; you have to look at everything for what it is. Now, when I was there, we won 50 games and got beat by San Antonio [in the playoffs] the first year. The next year we win 50 games, and start off in the playoffs against the Lakers. Kobe has a monster series, and we get beat by them. Now last year, when I'm not there, they win, what, 54 games? -- four more games during the regular season -- and who did they face in the first round? Dallas. With a healthy Nene. Now, I'm not taking away anything from what they did, because they did a great job and they had a great playoff run. I mean, they were excellent. But the situation was different, totally different. It was more than just a difference in one player. But no one is going to look at it that way. No one is going to look at it that way when it comes to me. Because it's easy to point the finger at this dude right here.
Jackson: So what stopped you from shutting it down altogether? It seems to me the business side of the game and the media messed with you to the point that you should have been like, "I'm tired of all this."
Iverson: Yeah it bothered me.
Jackson: How'd you get past it?
Iverson: I just love playing basketball on the highest level. Just wanting to play, just the passion for the game. Yeah, I could have [shut it down], but I wanted to play so much. Which is why I never thought about retiring. But if I would have been driven to [retiring] then I would have been cool with it, you know. Because there's always got to be life after basketball. I want to do other things in my life, and I know basketball is not going to last forever; I understand that. But at times, I'll be honest, it was frustrating because I really think from last year everybody threw everything but the kitchen sink at me. They probably threw that at me, too. I could have gone overseas, made $10 million or something like that. I thought about it. Actually, my wife wanted to [go]. To get away from here. It wasn't about the money -- she's got enough money. But she just wanted to get away, do something else. Something to make her and my relationship a whole lot better -- we could bond, you know how it is. All the traveling all over the place, that takes a toll on your marriage -- not doing that could have made our relationship a lot tighter. My relationship with my kids would be better, because I'd be there a lot more. You know, it just seemed like, to her, [going to Europe] would have been a good thing to do. But I took this money and stayed [in the NBA]. I could have gone somewhere else for more money.
Jackson: But if you did that, they would have said you were greedy.
Jackson: They would have said you are only in it for the money. It's like you can't win.
Iverson: I cannot win. And I looked at the media over there, and I look at the media over here, and it's sooooo different. I don't know, man. I've been overseas millions of times, and I just don't feel like they feel like negativity has to be discussed when it comes to their journalism. They were asking me, "Do you ever think you would ever come over here?" And man, I thought about it. I'll continue to think about it.
Jackson: What stopped you [from going]?
Iverson: C'mon, Scoop the timing. Like, I would have just had to up and grab my kids and family and then just -- "Boom!" -- [we're] gone to, like, Greece. C'mon. And I felt like this situation [with the Grizzlies] is a good situation for me. I really like [this]. After I talked to the ownership, after I talked to the coach, after I left the meeting with them I felt like this is where I wanted to be. The way they were talking to me made me think that they were already a winning team. Look, man, I just hope they give me the opportunity to -- like you said, I know you know in your heart that I got in my heart that I want to shut a lot of people up. I just hope they put me in a position to make them better and make them a winner. All I need is the opportunity to be out there on that court and put a lot of pressure on an opposing team. Just give me that chance, a chance to make us a winner. If I'm given that opportunity, I won't let [the Grizzlies] down.
Jackson: I want to get back to "you can't win." It's like Floyd Mayweather Jr. to me. Anything he does, people are going to find fault in it. He beats someone, he's undefeated, never lost -- but they are still going to find ways to throw darts at him. Darts that have nothing to do with what he does in the ring.
Iverson: And they are going to always do that to him because he is the best. They don't like him because he does this (makes a running-his-mouth motion with his hand). You can't appeal to everyone and be that way -- everybody is not going to love you, and that was one of the hardest things for me. But I learned. I learned that you guys -- when you guys are on a panel talking about say, basketball, it's got to be one guy anti-somebody and one guy for somebody. That's what interests people. People going back and forth against each other. I used to sit there and watch shows and be like, "Oh, he's an a--hole." Then I'd be like, "Hold up, this man is just doing his job. He's tryin' to feed his family." I used to get mad at guys that would write articles about me, but then I realized that it ain't him! He just has a job to do. And it took so long for me to understand that. Because I was always thinking it was all about me. Like people were just s------' on me. And I know now it's not like that. At least not all of the time. I used to be like, "Yeah, it does bother me, but I'm not going to let [them] know."
Jackson: So you understand what I'm getting at? You do feel like you and a cat like Mayweather are in the same boat?
Iverson: Yeah. Because I understand that they aren't coming from a frame of trying to be neutral with me. Off the top, they are coming from a negative place when it comes to me. That's what my wife always says. They [are] not going to give me or someone like Mayweather the benefit of the doubt. We'll never get the benefit of the doubt. It's just like what my coach, Coach [John] Thompson, told me about me: "If they are not talking about you, that's when you have a problem." When they're saying nothing, that's when I need to worry. If you aren't relevant, then what are they talking about you for anyway? My whole career is based on a person that stood up for what he believed in and I'm not talking about basketball. Somebody that stood up for what he believed in, whether he was right or wrong. [There's] been plenty of times when I've been wrong -- in things that I've said, things that I've done. And there's been plenty of times when I've been right -- but the fact that you are right doesn't mean that it's all right. It doesn't mean that Allen Iverson as a person is right. [I'm] wrong for voicing my opinion, and for me being me. People didn't like me coming into the league and being who the hell I am. Why does he have his hair like that? That's not an NBA player look. Why does he have all of these tattoos? Why are his clothes so baggy? What's this do-rag thing? Why does he wear his hats like that? What's this jersey thing? And every young kid that came into the NBA, that's all you saw. Now everyone has tattoos, everyone has cornrows, wears their clothes baggy, because I made young guys feel that it was all right. Like, "Oh s---, I can do that? Oh, OK." Then all of a sudden, boom, dress code. (In another voice) "This whole league is not going to look like him." It made me comfortable looking in the mirror and saying "I'm me." I didn't let anybody change me and tell me how I had to be me. Man, look, you see police officers with cornrows and tattoos now. That used to be the look of the suspect, didn't it? (Both laugh)
Jackson: So has any of this changed you? Has going through what you've gone through this past year changed who you are as a person at all?
Iverson: Yeah, from the [standpoint] that I don't trust people like I used to. I used to give people the benefit of the doubt. Now I don't. I expect, I expect what's the right word ?
Jackson: You just no longer expect everyone and everything to be straight up anymore. So you got your guard up now?
Iverson: I have my guards up all of the time now. I'll never put 'em down again. Never.
Jackson: But you've always kind of been that way. As long as I've known you, you were always cautious about people. What happened -- was last year the first time that you let them down?
Iverson: I guess I believed in the people that told me [it] was going to be a certain way. And I was shocked when it wasn't. So I guess I did let my guards down, and I got knocked the hell out.
Jackson: I've always said, if anybody really knew your real true story -- if you let anybody in, if your true life story was told -- Oprah would be calling you immediately to get you on her show. The world would be like, "OMG, we didn't know."
Iverson: (Long pause) It'll all come out once it's all over. Because then people will come out and take the time to listen. It's more dramatic when it's all over. [I'll] call my movie, or whatever I do, "Misunderstood." Because you all don't understand me. I learned that a long time ago; people just misunderstand me. You have to take time to understand somebody. You can't be like, "Yeah, man, I seen Allen Iverson on TV, and he's an a--hole!" Well (he speaks as if he's talking to that person), "Do you know him?" "No." "Have you ever seen him play?" "Naw, but I know he's an a--hole. I seen it on the 'Best Damn Sports Show.' So he must be an a--hole." They'll judge me for something I did when I was 24 years old, not the responsible 34-year-old Allen Iverson with a wife and five kids. They'll judge me off of one thing, one time, off of just last season. It's not fair, but I understand, because they don't know. No one knows the person that I really am. That's just the way it is.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.