BIG3 suspension proves not even A.I. can handle A.I.

Dan Wetzel
Columnist
Allen Iverson coaches his team during a game July 16. (AP)

Allen Iverson managed to get himself suspended from the BIG3, a three-on-three, summer basketball league. This has to go down as one of Iverson’s finest accomplishments and as the greatest moment in the BIG3’s brief history.

It’s like getting to see an aging band play its greatest hit on a reunion tour.

And wait, it gets better.

The man who doled out the suspension? It’s none other than Ice Cube. He’s the co-owner and founder of the league, which features retired NBA stars touring the country and giving offseason-starved hoop fans a once-a-week bit of nostalgia and action.

Now, Ice Cube is a businessman, and this is business, man. The BIG3 is pretty entertaining, but it needs ticket-paying fans and television viewers to trust that the players it promises to show up, will show up. That much is understood.

Iverson, the Hall of Fame guard with a history of, shall we politely say, off-court antics, did indeed skip a game in Dallas without warning or apparent reason. So it needed to be addressed.

Still, in all of Iverson’s many clashing-with-authority moments, this ranks up there with his famous 2006 “we’re talking about practice” rant when he was with the Philadelphia 76ers.

That was against coach Larry Brown.

This was against Ice Cube, a member of a legendary hip-hop group that dealt with censorship and FBI scorn over its lyrics, a rapper who once defined a “good day” as one in which “I didn’t even have to use my AK,” and a screenwriter who penned an all-time comedy classic built somewhat on the premise of “how the hell did you go and get fired on your day off?”

Darrin “Doughboy” Baker is now Mr. Disciplinarian? For some of us who still bask in the 1990s/2000s, a headline – like “Ice Cube suspends Allen Iverson” is about the greatest, and least likely, thing ever written.

Allen Iverson takes a 3-point shot during a June 25 game. (AP)

Part of the BIG3’s appeal is providing a platform for the old days – look at Chauncey Billups, still draining clutch threes. Well, what better than providing the total A.I. experience? He’s breaking ankles one night. He’s getting himself suspended the next.

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame may need to rework Iverson’s plaque in Springfield for the latest updates.

Part of Iverson’s appeal was how unapologetic and merciless he could be. He was the quickest and most exciting player in the league. He was, maybe, 6 feet tall. He weighed, maybe, 165 pounds. Yet he had four separate seasons in which he averaged over 30 points a game, mainly because of his wicked crossover and utter fearlessness driving to the hoop. He retired with a 26.7 scoring average, fifth best in NBA history.

In 2001, he somehow dragged a 76ers team whose second-leading scorer was Theo Ratliff to the NBA Finals. He then dropped 48 points to seize Game 1 from a loaded, Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers team. (LA went on to win the title 4-1, but A.I. partially stole the show.)

He was, by no means, the greatest player in NBA history, but he played with a fire, a heart and at a pace few could dream of matching. He did it all with a completely anti-establishment bent and the expectation that at any moment his career could implode.

People hated him. People loved him. People loved to hate him and hated to love him. Regardless, you couldn’t ignore the smallest guy on the court.

Understand that for he and his family, many of his struggles have been painful and remain so. Neither Iverson nor (don’t laugh) a Big3 “investigation” has revealed why he missed the game, but it’s safe to assume it wasn’t because he was busy volunteering at a local soup kitchen.

Yet for the distant fan just seeking some entertainment, man, he was something to behold. And still is.

Now, if you happen to be someone outraged at the lack of player commitment to a fledgling three-on-three league run by Ice Cube, you might want to reassess your priorities. They have a 4-point line in this thing. Don’t expect a lot of floor slapping on defense.

It’s supposed to be fun. Try it sometime.

Part of that fun when it came to Iverson was his battles with just about every coach he ever had. (Georgetown’s John Thompson remains, perhaps, the only person so tough that he actually scared Iverson straight.) They’d try to rein him in, always fail and then sheepishly fall prisoner to his talent.

That’s likely why Iverson also doubles as the coach(!) of his “3’s Company” team. Who else wanted that job? Allen Iverson, coach. There’s another sentence the BIG3 has brought us that no one ever thought would be written.

It’s worth nothing that 3’s Company managed fine without Iverson’s X’s-and-O’s genius and actually won the game he skipped. It is 1-4 with him and 1-0 without him.

If anything, this suspension proves his critics correct – the guy really is uncoachable. We’re talking about a game here, not practice, not practice, not practice.

It turns out, not even A.I. can handle A.I.

Now it’s Ice Cube, of all people, trying. Yet in suspending Iverson, he gave everyone a jolt of the old days.

“I will do my best to make up for this moving forward on the BIG3 tour,” Iverson wrote as part of an apology.

Come Aug. 13, when his suspension is over and the tour hits LA, expect him to hang 30 on the “Ball Hogs” and have fans booing Ice Cube like he was Roger Goodell.

Iverson always has known how to bounce back big.

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