Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady, and the Beginning of What Will Come. . .

One of the saddest things to watch in sports is when a once unstoppable superstar is unable to play anymore.  This has happened to many athletes because of injury, in some rare cases because of problems with the law, but for the majority of players in all sports the inescapable touch of father time is what becomes their downfall. 

In the 2000-2001 NBA season Allen Iverson had his dream season.  The MVP award was added to his 1996 ROY award and he made the finals for the first, and sadly the only time in his career.  The 76ers made the finals strictly based on AI, the formidable Answer, and could not use luck against the upstart dynasty that was Shaq, Kobe, and the Lakers that year.  I used to find myself catching every nationally televised Philly game because that was the draw Allen Iverson was and to watch a player so small compared to all those he played against while dominating the game with his mid-range jumper was exciting.  Any given night he would hit the floor 10-15 times while break some poor defenders ankles, and make a play that you knew only he could make.  My generation (18-28 years of age for the sake of this article) is starting to witness what so many other generations have had to before us.  We are about to see, and without recognition have been witnessing, the players that we grew up watching, the players that made us fans of the games we cherish, the players that either made you hoot and holler or boo certain teams, we are seeing them get old.

Tracy McGrady was my favorite superstars for the better part of this decade.  Abnormally long arms, jumping ability, and a wet jumper made him yet another sight to watch, but that was all hidden by the fact of the McGrady Curse.  He could not get out of the first round of the playoffs.  A few times he would reach the deciding, do-or-die final game of a series and could never win the game.  The only team he played on that did so was the Rockets, and that year he did not even play because of injury.  Yes, injury.  For such a great basketball player that is what will come to define the career of such a gifted athlete. 

It is a hard reality to face when the sports you have known for so long start to change faces.  Even Kobe Bryant is getting old!  Although he chooses not to show it.  Running up in age is the most detrimental to a career when you are involved in basketball and football.  Two sports that really are defined in the skill positions as to how quick you are and your ability to be more athletic than the opposing player who is defending you.  Derek Jeter is 36.  Jeter had arguably his best statistical season LAST YEAR.  He hit .334 at this age…does not look like he is slowing down any time soon (the Yankees should be making an exception on his contract for one of the best Yankees, if not baseball players, ever.)  The only players you can truly say changed games in the NBA well passed their prime were MJ (SEE: The Real Superman) and to an even larger extent Kareem. 

The question is, what is the point of writing this down?  Obviously as the years pass people age, and get older.  There is nothing that can be done about it.  Ladainian Tomlinson had 9 productive season, 3 of which were record breaking, but do you really think he is about to just pack it up even though he has already hit the shelf life given to running backs at his age?  There in lies the problem…

It may be sad for us as sports fans to watch our favorite athletes deteriorate before our eyes, but the much sadder part about it is watching these athletes not realize what is happening to them, convincing themselves they can still perform at the levels they were at in their prime, and watching them struggle the way we are not used to seeing them.  No one should have let Muhammad Ali step into the ring with Larry Holmes, but no one around him could accept the fact that the greatest fighter they had ever seen, and possibly of all time, was done.  The signs were there in his slowed down hands and much worse in his slow speech, but accepting the reality that he was at the end of his career was too much to handle.  Now if you witnessed that fight live or you are like me and have watched the video of that fight, it is not something for the weak.  It almost brings you to tears, for some it does just that.

When we witness these events we have to remind ourselves of what these athletes once did for us.  We may judge them in their decisions to try to stay in the game because for some of them the sport is the only thing they know and love and do not want to let it go.  We should not judge a player such as Iverson.  Although he did not love practice, you cannot say he did not put his whole heart and soul into every play of every game.  Ladies and gentlemen, there are only so many Julio Franco’s in this world that we cannot expect that out of everyone we love to watch play the games.  Appreciation of athletes, just for being athletes, should be enough.  In the meantime I know that I will watch these last days of careers for the likes of Iverson, T-Mac, Andruw Jones, LT, and Westbrook to name a few, with compassion and appreciation for what they provided for me, fantasy or not and I refuse to even entertain the idea of a Dustin Pedroia, Pujols, LeBron, D-Wade, or even Tom Brady being in the twilight of their careers until that day eventually comes.


One Response

  1. I had these thoughts about KG and Sugar Ray about 3 weeks ago. But they jumped in the DeLorean and have shown me to keep the faith for at least the rest of the season.

    But you definitely nailed it. It sucks that these guys view as legends are hitting the end of the road.

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