Forum Spin Doctor
PHILADELPHIA - Pat Croce counseled and coddled Allen Iverson, tried to trade him once, then watched the star guard turn the slight into an MVP season and a trip to the NBA Finals.
Maybe if Croce were still president of the Philadelphia 76ers he would have traded Iverson before this season, or perhaps he would have put the talent around his mercurial guard to keep the Sixers a title contender.
Impossible to know for sure. But Croce said there's no way he'd try and shop Iverson while the former MVP was sitting home on his sofa, getting paid millions for doing absolutely nothing but wait for word on his new destination.
"Allen Iverson is resting at home while they're shopping him," Croce said Wednesday. "That amazes me. I don't know the dynamics or the drama behind that decision, but it just amazes me they sent Allen Iverson home, not suspended, when you're telling everyone you want to trade him."
All the NBA knows Iverson is available. What's been harder to figure out is who exactly wants him, and for what. Once expected to be completed within days, a deal for Iverson dragged on without an answer for another day, and there's no telling when the Sixers will make one.
"You can follow me, but I'm not saying anything," team president Billy King said to three reporters trailing him before Wednesday night's game, cell phone pressed to his ear.
Iverson was inactive against the Celtics Wednesday night, his fourth straight game on the list. Boston sent Philadelphia to its ninth consecutive loss, 101-81.
Chairman Ed Snider said Iverson has probably played his last game for the Sixers, after the four-time scoring champion requested a trade last week.
"It's a stressful situation for a lot of people," coach Maurice Cheeks said. "I don't have any news for you. My job is really about coaching the players in the locker room."
The bitter parting surprised Croce, who was Sixers president from 1996-01 and erupted in jubilance when they won the draft lottery in 1996 and plucked Iverson out of Georgetown with the No. 1 overall pick. Croce always thought Iverson would end his career in Philadelphia.
"He talked often about ending his career (here) like Julius Erving and that his father was a Sixers fan and it meant a lot to him to play for the team," Croce said from Los Angeles in a telephone interview.
But Iverson could no longer work with Cheeks, and the star player still hadn't used up his allotment of defiant acts, blowing off a team bowling event which earned him a fine. Those were two of the final straws that saw Iverson and the Sixers realize they'd be better off without each other.
They were the kind of brewing blowups where Croce would once try and act as mediator, like he did in 1999 when he sat Iverson and former coach Larry Brown in a room and persuaded them to hash out their differences. Croce rejects building criticism that he was too soft on Iverson.
"I suspended him in Boston. I suspended him in Miami," Croce said. "We had a war over Larry Brown at one time. We had a war over his rap lyrics."
Croce later added:
"Larry Brown didn't want be the bad guy. He'd call me when he left a shootaround or a practice and I'd suspend him.
"I'm not saying he wasn't coddled as a star, because he was. But there was no way I'd look the other way, therefore my staff looked the other way."
Fed up with a string of embarrassing incidents, the Sixers were set to trade Iverson to Detroit in the summer of 2000 before the deal infamously collapsed. Motivated by the near-deal, Iverson went on to win the MVP the next season and led the Sixers to the NBA Finals before losing to the Lakers.
Whatever team acquires Iverson, still leading the league in scoring with 31.2 points, will get a player who gives the opposition a headache on the court and his own team a migraine off it.
"I think Allen Iverson thrives in chaos," Croce said. "Every two weeks he would do something that would cause chaos to the franchise and we'd have to iron it out, straighten it out. I think because he's brought up in that environment, that's how he thrives. What he does off the court and on the court are very similar. He thrives in chaos on the court."
Former Sixer Todd MacCulloch is sorry to see Iverson's time here end like this. Now the team's radio analyst, MacCulloch remembers Iverson as an outgoing, fun teammate to be around in the locker room and on the team plane. Iverson would keep everyone loose with jokes, songs, even caricatures he would draw to tease teammates with.
That's what MacCulloch thinks Iverson's legacy will be.
"When he goes into the Hall of Fame, it will probably be in a Sixers jersey," MacCulloch said. "I think people will remember the finals in 2001 and he was the biggest reason the Sixers got back to the championship. It was how hard he played.
"Obviously that's not what's fresh on anybody's mind right now when he's still here and there's been so much turmoil on the court."
Turmoil is as much a part of Iverson as cornrows, tattoos, 30-point games and his killer crossover. No one can talk about his magnificent talent without mentioning him as a magnet for trouble.
"Yeah, there's going to be the other stuff, the off the court antics and the trouble, but that's a footnote," Croce said. "I think he'll be remembered as someone who took us to the promised land on his back."