After being out of the league since 2010, Allen Iverson has officially retired from the NBA. Though there were murmurs of an attempted comeback in recent years, the world will never again see Iverson on an NBA court.
He’ll be remembered for his crossover, quickness, 14 50-point games, a 60-point effort, a 26.7 career scoring average, and his tattoos. Fans will also never forget how he carried the Philadelphia 76ers to the finals in 2001, his 48 points in Game One, the step over Tyronn Lue, the practice rant, the list goes on. Iverson’s career was filled with memorable moments and dazzling shows of basketball brilliance.
What he won’t be remembered for is Detroit. The Detroit Pistons acquired him in a trade just two games into the 2008 season. Detroit was fresh off three-straight losses in the Eastern Conference Finals. GM Joe Dumars famously declared no Piston to be a “sacred cow” in July of that year, and shipped out fan favorite and 2004 finals MVP Chauncey Billups, along with another mainstay, Antonio McDyess, for Iverson in November.
Iverson was 33 at the time. Some were beginning to suggest he was losing a step, and while his numbers were down by his standards the previous year in Denver, fans must remember Iverson’s standard was not standard. For Denver in 2007-08, he averaged 26.4 points and 7.1 assists per game.
He came to the Motor City to win a ring, maybe the only memory of Iverson that will align itself with the Pistons. While he never did get that piece of jewelry, there was so much more that went wrong for Iverson in Detroit.
On a team that lost three-straight conference championships, he was supposed to be the Answer. No more falling to the LeBron James, Dwyane Wades and Garnett–Pierce–Allens of the world; the team-centric Pistons now had a go-to scorer of their own. Maybe Dumars should have known, the supposed was rarely reality with Iverson.
Months after his time in Detroit, Iverson told ESPN, “I felt that this was the worst career move I’d ever made, and it was the worst year of my career.”
Iverson played just 54 games for the Pistons, starting in 50. In those 50 games, Detroit went 22-28. His averages were some of the worst of his career to date: 17.5 points, 5.0 assists and .417 from the field. He clashed with first-year coach Michael Curry, refusing to accept a bench role and later insisting the team promised to “not disrespect him” by relegating him to such a role.
After suffering an injury, Iverson returned toward the end of the year and played three games coming off the bench. Then, Iverson said, per New York Times, “I’d rather retire before I do this again. I can’t be effective playing this way.”
The Iverson experiment was over. Dumars announced days later he would be done for the season, presumably for his back, but likely for his mouth. Jewelry aside, Iverson never even suited up for the Pistons in the playoffs. The team limped to an eight seed and a first-round sweep courtesy, of LeBron James.
That season ended a handful of streaks in Detroit: six straight Eastern Conference Finals visits, seven straight 50-win seasons, and the team’s first losing record, 39-43, since the 2000-01 season.
Detroit signified the beginning of the end for Iverson. He flamed out the following season, his last in the NBA, playing just 28 games for the Memphis Grizzlies and Philadelphia.
Maybe he just couldn’t mesh, and couldn’t fit in to the team-first mentality Detroit was famous for. Maybe he wasn’t given a proper opportunity, and his complaints of not receiving enough of the offensive load were warranted. Maybe injuries suffered by Richard Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace meant more than the Iverson issues. Whatever the case, the answer clearly left more questions in Detroit.
Iverson will always be remembered in NBA circles for the viciousness with which he played the game. His No. 3 Philadelphia jersey will always get play from kids on playgrounds and fans of the outspoken superstar, but when people come across the number one Pistons jersey with Iverson emblazoned across the back, they’ll think: “Oh yeah! Iverson did play in Detroit.” And what an agonizing memory it is.