Less than three months into his rookie season, Sixers point
guard Allen Iverson has emerged as the NBA's top conversation
piece. While his catlike quickness is dazzling, his flamboyant
mishandling of the ball is disruptive. His confidence is
admirable--except when it turns into arrogance, as it did in two
games against the Bulls. Iverson's incessant trash talking
prompted Michael Jordan to pull him aside and remind him to
respect his elders. The 21-year-old Iverson's response: He
didn't have to respect anyone.
"If I was one of his teammates, I'd crack him upside the head,"
declared Jordan's teammate Dennis Rodman (of all people).
It may happen. Through Sunday, Iverson was averaging 22.2
points, 6.8 assists and 2.24 steals. But he was shooting only
39.5% and was first in the league in turnovers, with 5.0 per
game, two of the many reasons that Philadelphia had lost 18 of
19 and fallen into the Atlantic Division cellar, a half-game
behind the woeful Celtics. Among the 76ers' players, Iverson's
act is already wearing thin. "The kid is a great talent," says
one Sixer, "but we need him to grow up--fast."
"I don't know why he's so confident," said the Rockets' Charles
Barkley of Iverson before Houston beat Philly last Friday
120-99. "If I'd lost 16 out of 17, I'd think, Damn, maybe I'm
not that good. Because I don't think even the crappiest team I
ever played on lost 16 out of 17."
Sources close to the 76ers say that as the losses mounted last
week, Iverson's teammates were openly grousing about how little
they were getting the ball. Iverson wasn't the only target of
the complaints; his backcourt partner, Jerry Stackhouse, also
likes to shoot first and pass later. When Stackhouse was a
rookie last season, he, too, put up gaudy numbers (including a
19.2-point scoring average) while dissing veterans and touting
his own talent. Fellow North Carolina alumnus Jordan was so
disgusted he vowed to make Stackhouse pay, then kept his word by
burning him one night for 48 points.
Sixers president Pat Croce suspects that Iverson will experience
a similar comeuppance. "He'll learn the hard way," says Croce.
"He's been on his own his whole life. He's used to trial and
error." Croce does admit, "The turnovers make you cringe, but
that's part of the package."
In the meantime Croce feeds off Iverson's jabbering. "I laugh,"
he says. "When Allen said he didn't have to respect anyone, what
I think he really meant was he doesn't have to fear anyone."
Evidently that includes anyone on his own club. Iverson walked
in late for a Jan. 8 home game against the Mavericks and, say
76ers sources, shrugged off his tardiness--at least until he
learned that he had lost his starting job for the night to Doug
Overton. (Iverson nevertheless squeezed in 31 minutes, 14 shots,
22 points and three turnovers in the 111-93 defeat.)
Iverson's moves and speed are still so esteemed that when the
Warriors played Philly on Jan. 3, Golden State veteran Latrell
Sprewell checked to make sure his teammates' ankles were taped
lest they suffer a sprain reacting to Iverson's lightning-fast
first step. Sprewell's counsel helped, sort of: Iverson scored
26 points but turned the ball over four times in Golden State's
122-114 overtime win.
Last week's injured Spurs trio of center David Robinson (broken
left foot) and forwards Sean Elliott (tendinitis of the right
quadriceps) and Dominique Wilkins (strained right patella
tendon) have 18 All-Star Game selections among them. Their
replacements, center Will Perdue and forwards Carl Herrera and
Monty Williams, have none. The circumstances would suggest that
San Antonio is a lock for a spot in June's draft lottery. Yet
general manager and coach Gregg Popovich, who fired coach Bob
Hill in December after a 3-15 start, has vowed not to allow his
team to drift into oblivion. Instead, the Spurs, 9-25 at week's
end, will try to stay afloat in the watered-down Western
Conference until their injured troops, who also include forward
Chuck Person, return. After all, even with its misfortune, San
Antonio was a mere 4 1/2 games out of eighth place and a playoff
spot through Sunday. "When we get healthy," says Person, "we'll
be a pretty scary seventh or eighth seed."
Person, originally thought to be out for the year after disk
surgery in October, has started workouts and could return in two
weeks or less. Robinson, who missed the first 18 games with a
lower-back strain and then returned for only six games before
fracturing his foot, could be back in the lineup in
mid-February, just after the All-Star break.
Popovich says a lack of defensive commitment, not the record,
did Hill in. "We need to be defensively oriented if we want
success in the postseason," he says. As for next season,
Popovich plans to relinquish one of his titles, but he's not
sure which one. Sources close to him say that he loves coaching
but that he has discussed wooing old friend and former Bucks,
Warriors and Knicks coach Don Nelson. Popovich also would be
eager to talk with Pacers coach Larry Brown, provided that Brown
is interested and Indiana would allow such an interview. (Brown
has two more seasons left on his contract with the Pacers.) The
sources say that San Antonio assistant Hank Egan, who lists
defense as his specialty, also would receive consideration.
SEE YOU NEXT YEAR
Last fall, when the Clippers wouldn't budge from their
four-year, $16.8 million final offer to re-sign free-agent big
man Brian Williams (he was looking for $7 million a season),
they were called cheap. Correction: Call them smart. Team
sources say they suspected that Williams was injured because
whenever they made discreet inquiries about him, he wasn't
playing any basketball. On Jan. 3 the New York Post reported
that Williams had clandestine surgery on his right knee in
Arizona in September. Worried about that knee, the Mavericks and
the Raptors backed off from pursuing Williams.
Now agent Dwight Manley, who began representing Williams about a
month ago, says his client will not play this season. According
to Manley, the surgery in Arizona involved lifting a tendon to
remove a bone spur. Afterward, Manley says, Williams was
"misinformed" by the doctor that the recovery period would be 12
Last week Manley arranged for Williams to be examined by
Southern California-based orthopedist Michael Drucker, who
estimated that Williams would not be able to return to the
basketball court for another eight weeks. "But we've decided to
wait until July 1 to sign," says Manley. "What's the rush? The
money will be there."
Not from the Clippers. Asked if his team missed Williams, coach
Bill Fitch answered, "He's ancient history."
LINE OF THE WEEK
Bulls forward Dennis Rodman, Jan. 10 against the Bucks: 43
minutes, 8-11 field goals, 16 points, 26 rebounds, 2 steals. In
Chicago's 116-101 win, Rodman snared 10 offensive
rebounds--three more than the entire Milwaukee team.
Honorable mention: Bob Cousy, Celtics (ret.), 3-4 free throws.
In a two-night, two-city free throw contest last weekend between
old-timers from Boston and New York, Cooz, 68, flashed his
timeless 80.3% career foul-shooting form.
AROUND THE RIM
Look for Raptors majority owner Allan Slaight to try to sell his
share of the team. Toronto recently cut some ticket prices to
increase its fan base....The Nuggets and the Nets last week
discussed swapping point guards, with Denver's Mark Jackson
heading east for New Jersey's Robert Pack. But the Nets were
concerned about picking up a 31-year-old who is not a good
defender and has three years left on his contract....Forward
Henry James, an NBA nomad (five teams in the last six seasons),
lost 15 pounds, gained quickness and on Dec. 20 latched on with
the Hawks. On Jan. 7 he celebrated being signed for the
remainder of the season by hitting a spinning three-point jumper
with one second left in overtime to beat the Suns 105-103.