When Tony Soprano reminded us all that “remember when” is the lowest form of conversation, he clearly wasn’t referring to sports. In sports, nostalgia’s what gets us through our days. It’s why we could go years without accidentally turning on Monday Night Raw, but when Bret Hart makes his return, we become ten years old all over again. It’s why radio hosts can spend hours debating a guy’s Hall of Fame credentials without the conversation ever getting stale. It’s why we always have cared about records and streaks and champions and why we always will.
And it’s why Allen Iverson absolutely deserves to be an All Star this season.
There are people -- albeit ignorant, shortsighted people – who disagree with that statement. They’re outraged because fans have too much say, because the majority of people who vote for the All Star teams won’t watch an entire basketball game all season. They’re whining about how unfair it is that a washed up Iverson is going to make it over any number of guards putting up better numbers than him this season.
Do they have a point? Of course. But no one is voting Iverson to the All Star team this year because they still consider him to be one of the best players in the league. They’re voting for him because he’s earned it. He’s earned it the way veterans in the league earn calls from officials. The way Tony Gwynn earned the benefit of the doubt from umpires when he took a close pitch.
This is Iverson’s lifetime achievement award.
It’s not like this is the first time a guy had made an All Star team based on what he did for his entire career. This is why these games are exhibitions (except in baseball, which is completely foolish). So why doesn’t Iverson get the same respect Magic got when he came back? Why didn’t anyone complain about Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. getting picked for All Star Games at the end of their respective careers? If we’re being honest, Iverson was probably a better basketball player than either of those guys were baseball players.
Part of me wants to believe it’s because Tracy McGrady happens to be a leading vote getter as well and so Iverson gets lumped in with him. Let me be clear: McGrady has no business being anywhere near an All Star Game. But the two are completely different cases. When we talk about McGrady, we talk about all what could have been. When we talk about Iverson, we talk about what he actually accomplished.
With the exception of Michael Jordan, no one has a highlight reel longer than The Answer’s. He was the NBA during the late nineties and the early part of the 2000’s. I’ve written this about him before, but it’s worth mentioning again: If you became a sports fan in the mid-late ‘90s, you’ve watched Iverson closer than any other athlete. ESPN’s Rick Reilly once wrote that if there was one player he’d pay twice the ticket price to watch, it would be Iverson, who really makes you think twice about cheering for someone like Manny Ramirez.
This might be the final glimpse we get of Iverson’s brilliant career. He plays on a team going nowhere and there’s a good chance he’ll call it quits when the season comes to an end. Rather than criticizing him or the fans who voted him in, let’s use this All Star Game to send him off in fashion.
Because when you’re as good as Iverson was, you always deserve the benefit of the doubt.