Saturday October 30th, 2010

NEW YORK -- In the end, Allen Iverson was, well, Allen Iverson. He was repentant for some of his childish behavior. But not really. He acknowledged his transition to the final phase of his NBA career would have been easier had he been more willing to accept a lesser role, but then declared that he "wouldn't put my talent behind anybody." Indeed, if Friday was the last look America gets of Iverson -- sitting in front of a handful of cameras and a surprisingly sparse group of reporters at the St. Regis Hotel, where he announced his decision to sign with the Turkish club Besiktas -- before his eventual induction ceremony in Springfield, Mass., then Iverson did not disappoint.

Was it sad? Nah. Surreal, maybe, like watching something that's not supposed to be funny but smiling nonetheless. Iverson spoke nonchalantly about his decision to play in Europe, as if leading a team to the EuroCup was a natural next step. Dressed in a black T-shirt with a black Yankees cap tilted slightly to the side, Iverson sat at a table lined with Turkish flags, flanked by his manager, Gary Moore, and Besiktas owner, Yildirim Demiroren, who clearly has no idea what he is getting himself into. When the event concluded, scratchy Turkish music was piped into the room and a mobbed Iverson scribbled his name on newspapers covered by his photo.

This wasn't what Iverson wanted, of course. He wanted to be in the NBA. His agents called dozens of teams. Said he would accept a reserve role. No takers. Not San Antonio, which in recent years has made a habit of tacking aging veterans onto their roster. Not Boston, which has shown a willingness to take a risk on the occasionally mercurial talent (Stephon Marbury, Nate Robinson, Shaquille O'Neal) but wouldn't bite on this one. Not Charlotte, where Iverson's old pal Larry Brown opted to go into the season with another shoot-first point guard, D.J. Augustin, running the show.

Not Miami, Los Angeles or Utah, either.

"There are a lot of things that I'm not proud of," Iverson said. "I came into this league 21 years old, never having nothing in my whole life and then given everything in the world. I met a lot of bad people that I had around me. I met a lot of good people. I had to at a young age distinguish who were good and who were bad. And I made a lot of mistakes along the way, thinking I knew things that I didn't know. A lot of times I was a fish out of water, I thought I was in the biggest ocean in the world. I made mistakes, so me not being on an NBA roster, and me being bad-mouthed throughout the league, a lot of things I have to own up to. A lot of those things were true. I made a lot of mistakes. And obviously it cost me."

Not accepting his own limitations may have been Iverson's biggest error. Father Time catches up to us all and over the last few years he robbed Iverson of just enough of his quickness and speed to make a difference. Iverson was given opportunities to age gracefully, to morph from All-Star starter to All-Everything role player -- think Vinnie Johnson, but better -- and passed each time. He passed in Detroit, where the Pistons banished him under the guise of a back injury. He passed in Memphis, where he never wore a home uniform. Every time Iverson was presented an opportunity to do the right thing, he did the wrong one.

"I felt like I had so much of a belief and a confidence in my basketball ability," Iverson said. "Not calling it arrogance or cockiness or anything else, just the belief in what I can do, that's what had me doubt whether I wanted to play as far as having to come off the bench behind guys that I thought, in my mind, weren't better than me and didn't deserve to be ahead of me."

"[I] never had to deal with [being a reserve] professionally, in college or in high school. I never had to deal with that situation. It was something new to me. I think it was blown out of proportion. And I'm a competitor. Everything I do, I always want to come in first. I never get into anything, especially in basketball, in which I think I'm not the best at. I don't go into a situation trying to be No. 2, I try to be No. 1."

There is a method to Iverson's madness. He's not going to Turkey for the money -- a two-year, $4 million deal is peanuts to someone who made more than $150 million in his career -- but for the chance to prove he can still play.

"I'd be lying if I said [showing I can play] wasn't an issue," Iverson said. "I want to show everybody that I can play basketball."

He will get that chance. Iverson said he wanted to go somewhere he was wanted and the Turks want him. Bad. He will be the biggest American import in the nation's history and Besiktas will cash in by selling tickets by the thousands.,

Iverson will cash in, too. The Turkish league is weak and even faded Iverson should excel. But Iverson's European adventure won't just be about the games. It will be about accepting a rigorous practice schedule, about finding a place in a foreign environment surrounded by fans that view him as a novelty.

NBA teams will keep an eye on his play, for sure. But they will also monitor his behavior. They will watch to see if Iverson finally understands what it means to be part of a team instead of the team. If he does, one may come calling. Iverson reportedly has an opt-out clause in his contract after one season and could be in NBA training camp next season.

If he doesn't, then his career will end there, on foreign soil. It won't be a fitting end for one of the NBA's greatest little men. But it will be the end.

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