A.I.: The artificial intelligence of numbers

Allen IversonI learned two things in basketball camp at Kutsher’s Sports Academy in the late 70s. First, great players make everyone around them better and second, never order the kosher meal. When it comes to Allen Iverson, I think there’s a better chance of him slinging kasha varnishkes at a retirement home in Boca than being a selfless teammate.

Basketball is the ultimate team game and Iverson, throughout his career, has been a coach-killing anti-teammate. Larry Brown, Mo Cheeks, Michael Curry and George Karl can attest to this, and Karl did some attesting following the departure of AI’s expiring contract from the Rocky Mountains last Fall. It’s been a revelation to some to see the Sixers and Nuggets become much more formidable following Iverson’s farewell and to see the Pistons plummet to a level not seen since the Bubbles Hawkins days.

The day that basketball writers, analysts and even coaches stop basing a player’s value on his statistics will be a sunny one. Maybe that is AI’s true calling; to have people realize through his work that even though he dropped 30 a game for the better part of the past 13 years, with the exception of the 2000-01 season, his teams consistently underachieved because he was selfish on and off the court and didn’t contribute to making his teammates better. And why did the 00-01 team succeed? Because it was centered around an unselfish, defense-first philosophy that Brown employed and it was led by the likes of Dikembe Mutombo, Aaron McKie and Eric Snow.

I would send a Whitman’s Sampler to the first analyst who didn’t back up his praise of a player with statistics to prove his point. Stats, for the most part, are an array of insignificant numbers, a would-be algorithm that is not to be used by anyone not wearing a gas mask. Tony Parker, a career 49 percent shooter could average 30 points a game in his sleep, but knows it would be to the detriment of his team. Iverson, a career 42 percent shooter and now 34 years of age, has yet to learn this. In fact, I believe Iverson is credited with starting the ol’ one for you, one for me… two for you, one-two for me routine at a Hampton, VA, corner candy store.

I’ve been to many Knicks games at The Garden throughout my life and one that stands out was from about six or seven years ago against Philly. I would bet my last sheckel that Iverson and fellow heel Stephon Marbury got together pre-game and made a deal to let the other go unmolested after the first dribble. It was a display of defense that would have made Doug Moe beam. Iverson is one of the NBA’s all-time leaders in steals, but in reality has zero desire to actually defend anyone. I remain disgusted by that game.

I’ve had several debates over the years with faithful Iverson supporters of all psychological disorders and don’t take any of this to mean that I think he is not a talented player. But instead of anointing himself a go-to guy from day one, he would have been better served using his physical gifts to create for others.

And now the Heat, Clippers and Grizzlies are all interested in Iverson’s services, his tired act still not wearing thin on some NBA GMs. Perhaps he’ll sign with the Greek Club Olympiakos and open a chain of moussaka stands throughout Athens.

Regardless of where he he ends up, the results will hold true to form.


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