Summery Judgment

July 28, 2002

If Allen Iverson is the Answer, then the Question, allegedly, is
this: Who throws his wife onto the lawn, naked, in the middle of
the night, in the manner of an aggrieved Fred Flintstone putting
out the cat? And make no mistake, the Iverson "story" has become
a cartoon, just another summer serial, a diverting hip-hopera
about a rich family's domestic disharmony: The Magnificent
Ambersons plus The Battling Bickersons equals The Idling
Iversons.

In short, the Iversons are The Osbournes (a family putting the
funk back in dysfunction) served up in slices to an insatiable
media. The Philadelphia police apparently see them as TV
programming, which may explain why--before Iverson was charged on
July 16 with four felonies and 10 misdemeanors, to which he was
expected to plead not guilty--detective Mike Chitwood said smugly
to the assembled cameras, "Stay tuned."

We did stay tuned, and police leaked word that "smeared blood"
had been found in Iverson's Escalade. Of course, days later those
same police quietly acknowledged that the stains in question were
"definitely not blood" and "probably came from the kids." Which
suggests that forensics experts in Philadelphia don't know Type A
from Hi-C. Keystone State, Keystone Kops.

Their case hangs largely on Iverson's accuser, 21-year-old
Charles Jones, who said the Sixers' guard, while looking for his
wife in a West Philadelphia apartment, threatened to shoot him.
But Jones's 911 call came about 10 hours after the incident, and
neighbors labeled him to the Philadelphia Daily News as an
eccentric fond of "prancing in the halls half-naked." Most
alarming of all, Jones is said to wear "poom-poom
pants"--described as revealing, cutoff jeans. Granted, these may
be mud smears, as opposed to blood smears. But since at week's
end no gun had been found and Iverson's wife had filed no
charges, a trial would likely come down to Jones's word against
Iverson's. And that, frankly, should scare the poom-poom pants
off the prosecution.

Sportswriters are, naturally, our nation's moral guardians,
preposterous people like myself, affronted by AI's cornrows, if
only because my own cornfield is fallow. Indeed, most of the
high-minded columns on Iverson have presumed his guilt, in part
because of a previous weapons charge against him, but also
because sportswriting--and sports radio and sports television--is
incapable of acknowledging shades of gray. You're a great man
(Sammy Sosa in '98) or a great Satan (Sosa in '02), but you can
never be a little of both, for that would make you complex
and--God forbid--fully human.

A spokesman for Reebok, with whom Iverson has a $50 million
endorsement deal, shamelessly said the star was arrested merely
because of his celebrity. (How could the shoemakers possibly
presume to know that?) At the same time Iverson has unmistakably
been coddled because of that celebrity, allowed to stay at home,
in a 15-room mansion, until his attorney returned from a European
vacation, at which time he would surrender to police. His house
arrest became House Party 4.

Callers to sports radio shows are told, above all, to "have a
take." And so Iverson's fame must be one or the other--his bane or
his benefactor. It is not allowed to be both, though of course it
is exactly that.

Whatever the outcome of his case, it may already be too late for
Iverson, who is rapidly realizing the worst possible fate for an
American, which is to become ridiculous. (Ask Bud Selig, or the
frozen corpse of Ted Williams. And July isn't even over yet.)
When an aerial view of your estate appears frequently on
television, something has gone seriously wrong in your life. And
that aerial view appeared endlessly last week, embracing the
large crowds outside Iverson's gate, which has become just
another Philly tourist stop, after the Liberty Bell and the
statue of Rocky, much to the dismay of Iverson's Main Line
neighbors.

One of those wealthy neighbors is The Sixth Sense director M.
Night Shyamalan, whose new film, Signs, about crop circles, may
have been inspired by the Answer's hairdo. But even as he gets
the full O.J. treatment, Iverson is so far guilty of nothing more
than bad hair, bad language and egregiously bad judgment. It
shouldn't be difficult, in a short off-season, to stay out of
trouble. Yet athletes continue to surprise us in that regard.
Before attending his first training camp with the Green Bay
Packers this summer, rookie running back Najeh Davenport
allegedly entered a stranger's closet in a dormitory at Barry
(Fla.) University at 6 a.m. and took a dump in her laundry
basket. Not doing so, it seems, never occurred to him.

Of course The Iversons are not at all funny. They're not a
midsummer replacement for The Osbournes. The Iverson case--at once
trivialized and trumped-up--is nothing to wallow in, even as we're
doing so right here. Domestic-violence crimes involving guns are
all too common in America. You needn't be M. Night Shyamalan to
know how these stories often end.

I see dead people.

COLOR PHOTO: PETER GREGOIRE

It may already be too late for Iverson, who is realizing the
worst possible fate for an American, which is to become
ridiculous.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)