Please recall the presence Penny Hardaway, Allen Iverson, Baron Davis, Steve Francis, Stephon Marbury, and Gilbert Arenas had in the NBA beginning in the mid-Nineties. People may say that injuries and age led to their demise, but more than anything it was of their own making. The Philadelphia 76ers graciously allowed Allen Iverson to give the game ball to the head referee during a Playoff game this past season. Iverson was nearly in tears as he was reminded of the adulation he received from fans during his tenure as a Sixer when fans gave him a standing ovation during his short walk to hand the game ball to the ref. It was an uncomfortable moment watching A.I. lap up the applause while knowing he was wishing he could still be playing, for various reasons. Allen is not alone in desiring for himself to be on an NBA basketball court again. There are many fans that wish they could still see the likes of “The Answer,” “Agent Zero,” “Penny,” “Starbury,” “BD,” and “Stevie Franchise.”
Penny, a Memphis native, was amazing. He was like a mythical combination of Jordan and Magic. He just needed the years of sustained excellence to really get that ascension to legendary status that Jordan and Magic own respectively. It didn’t happen for Penny due to locker room issues, injuries, and a term I heard another basketball player use—check-love. The NBA game will take a toll on your body; and it seemingly got to Penny’s. The league is still waiting for someone of his talent, skill, and size to emerge again. Just take the epicness of Penny’s ad campaign as indication of his basketball excellence.
Allen Iverson is the greatest little man to ever play at the NBA level. That is taking into consideration Isiah Thomas, Nate “Tiny” Archibald, and Bob Cousy. Iverson lead his out matched team to the NBA finals against a Lakers team of Kobe and Shaq, which included the Sixers winning the first game of the series in Los Angeles. Seeing that happen was more than impressive. Sadly, the 76ers lost in five games.
A.I. put his team on his back for years, and they were winning with nothing else (no intended disrespect to those Sixer players). In order for that team to win a championship, they would have to shoot seventy-five to eighty percent, with the great defense they played. But, what made Allen Iverson special was his unguardability. But, as he aged, he needed to play with others in a way that he had not during his entire career in order to win championships. Championships are what all organizations want. Allen Iverson was not willing to accept a reduced role, which led to his ousting from the NBA. It’s still rather unbelievable that one of the greatest NBA players of all time was ousted from the league. Mind boggling! Mr. Iverson dealt with off-court issues of various kinds that were no longer being mitigated by his greatness of play. After not wanting to come off the bench in Memphis, or during a second term with the Sixers, Allen walked away from the NBA; or the NBA from him.
Steve Francis’s basketball career ultimately dropped off as abruptly as he hit the national scene during his one-year stint at the University of Maryland. He was TOUGH. He could shoot, drive, dish, and dunk. He was full of highlight plays, and put up crazy numbers anywhere he played, especially summer league basketball. He got all the money one could ask for based on his early years in the NBA, but soon he became a liability for every team he played with since he was not worth the money he was receiving.
When he was shipped to Orlando, he wasn’t able to make the All-Star team because of the rising star that was Gilbert Arenas. Arenas made the team instead. The problem with Steve Francis is that he rose and fell so fast that people forgot about his talent. After a lackluster season with the Knicks, a $30 million buyout by Portland for him not to play, and a second tour with the Rockets where he got more money; he saw his NBA career end in Memphis—an organization he was originally drafted by, then based in Vancouver, and pouted enough to be traded. The reason for his fall can be speculated upon, but there are no doubts that it ended prematurely because his play stopped matching the pay or other issues he presented.
Great basketball debates surrounded whether Stephon Marbury was a more premier player than Steve Francis, Baron Davis, or Allen Iverson. He was New York’s son. Marbury did outshine Penny and Francis when they crossed paths on the same team in New York. After emerging from Georgia Tech to play along side Kevin Garnett, Marbury was able to make his own statement with the Nets, Suns, and Knicks. He could absolutely put up big numbers, while wowing the fans with his crossover and passing. He solidified his ability to play when he led the East back from a large second-half deficit to win the NBA All-star game held in Washington, D.C. But in all honesty, he was not as good as those other guys.
Presumably, he was on a short leash after sharing the headlines with Allen Iverson on the 2004 Olympic Team that was fortunate to grab the bronze. Since then, various coaching feuds, and a 24-hour video stream of his life, allowed him to slide downhill quickly. Having a king’s ransom to play basketball while in the Big Apple creates a lot of pressure and distractions. Ultimately, no NBA teams were willing to deal with his antics after a short stint with the Celtics. “Starbury” can still be found playing abroad, unlike Iverson and Francis who weren’t willing to assimilate to their new circumstances. Respect.
Baron Davis electrified basketball fans while at UCLA for one year, before taking his talents to the League. Baron was a real point guard with great passing skills that had the ability to light it up and dunk on anybody. He is no different from his counterparts in that he made a bad basketball career decision or two, which ultimately led to his career taking a turn for the worst. First, once Dwyane Wade scored that buzzer beater on him and the Hornets during a playoff game, Davis immediately dropped in the player rankings. If it wasn’t stated, Davis certainly felt it. That shot by Wade visibly hurt Davis’s confidence.
He had a resurgence with Golden State during the season they beat the top seeded Mavs as an eight-seed, and dunking all over Andrei Kirilenko in the next round. Davis’s stock shot back up. But, his luck stopped after re-signing with the Clippers. That move ultimately ruined him. It was said he was distracted in L.A.–he took less money to do it—and then was traded away once Blake Griffin started to emerge. He barely played in Cleveland due to injury, then landed in New York to hold the reigns with Carmelo and Stoudemire. His back injury kept him down, while Jeremy Lin exploded. He eventually took that spot over, before suffering a gruesome knee injury during the playoffs this past year against Miami. That injury likely slammed the door shut on his NBA career, but he failure to meet expectations with the Clippers really did it. Interpersonal problems with management is to blame there, but maintaining good rapport with an employer is par for the course as a professional. He was unable to do that there. Stuff happens. The Clippers’s owner is notorious for being a jerk, but you have to keep the guy paying you happy. Egos.
Gilbert Arenas was the second most lethal scorer of them all. He is only second to Allen Iverson, a recurring scoring champion. Agent Zero brought a flare to the game that many only wish they could, but his brightness petered. Mr. Arenas has a great story regarding his rise to stardom. His Internet blogging made him fascinating to hear talk and play. He started a trend of the number Zero being incredibly popular to wear; a number not usually reserved for stars. He was a very outspoken star who wanted to make people regret ever treating him with less respect than he knew he deserved. Arenas may have been one of the hardest working players in the NBA—he played in—next to Kobe Bryant, but that all changed with a knee injury.
That knee injury coupled with a huge contract he once deserved, and locker room problems (an understatement) altered the trajectory of his career. At 30, he can still be effective on an NBA team as a second or third scorer, but it will require an organization to give him a chance to excel considering his well-documented issues. Gilbert Arenas still has a role to fulfill in the NBA, but that decision is not within his control. His talent dictates that he should be on someone’s team. Additionally, it would be refreshing to have him in the NBA as a comeback story, but that shipped may have sailed.
Interestingly enough, Penny, Iverson, Francis, and Arenas all share a common ground of Memphis. Hopefully, Arenas’s stint in Memphis is not his NBA death sentence since he still has an inkling of NBA life left. And, hopefully it is not an omen for any super point guard who has been through Memphis. These guys all dealt with a dynamic of cost versus worth from the front office. The NBA show is moving on, and with the endless talent pool that exists in the world for basketball athletes, organizations do not need to revisit past success stories to get new ones. In essence, the next generation of super point guards including Russell Westbrook, John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Deron Williams, and Derrick Rose, should heed the stories of their predecessors. All of these players deserve tons of respect for their ability and basketball accomplishments.