Playing time for publicity: Allen Iverson and Memphis have an ‘understanding’
After a disappointing season in Detroit, Iverson needed a struggling market like Memphis to provide unlimited minutes and shots to help him re-establish his name. And the Grizzlies, who have struggled to sell tickets and generate interest since moving to the River City, needed Iverson to create a buzz …
At the press conference, they made nice.
The player received a standing ovation and was afforded a hero’s welcome with fans chanting his name. In turn, the player spoke glowingly about his new team, showering the organization with compliments.
However, the devil is in the details, so look past the news that Iverson finally signed that one-year, $3.1 million contract with the Memphis Grizzlies. Instead, realize that Iverson and owner Michael Heisley have an understanding: playing time for publicity.
After a disappointing season in Detroit, Iverson needed a struggling market like Memphis to provide unlimited minutes and shots to help him re-establish his name. And the Grizzlies, who have struggled to sell tickets and generate interest since moving to the River City, needed Iverson to create a buzz.
The very early returns look good. Reports from Memphis indicate the team has sold thousands of tickets since the Iverson signing was announced two days ago. And Iverson seems determined to prove critics wrong because this year is “so personal” for him.
However, understandings can sour, especially when they’re driven by the owner’s desire to sell tickets and the aging star’s desire to recapture past glory.
For instance, suppose Iverson has a bounce back year and the Grizzlies win 35 games instead of 28. Well, what happens in the summer of 2010? After all, Iverson only inked a one-year pact and becomes an unrestricted free agent in July.
Well, Iverson will likely head elsewhere. That buzz will vanish. Young stars like Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, and O.J. Mayo will have had their development stunted. And, because of their fling with Iverson, Memphis will be further away from respectability on-court and from forging a tangible connection with the market off-court.
Make no mistake about it, this is the best case scenario. Some spotlight; a few more wins, but no playoff birth in the highly competitive Western Conference.
Now suppose the worst case scenario occurs. Suppose Iverson has lost a step. Suppose he dominates the ball and alienates scorers like Gay, Mayo, and veteran Zach Randolph, who, by the way, is eyeing a new contract of his own.
What then? How do the Grizzlies cut the chord with Iverson and not frustrate their long-suffering fans, who specifically purchased tickets to watch the A.I. comeback show? How does Heisley survive another test to his already shaky credibility as an NBA owner?
Let’s be clear: Iverson deserves better. The greatest little man in league history should finish his career playing meaningful basketball in May or June with a contender. Right now, he’s a sideshow in the NBA’s version of Siberia.
As mentioned earlier, Iverson and Memphis made nice at Thursday’s press conference. Most people usually are at the beginning of an understanding.