There’s a well-worn backhanded compliment about Allen Iverson.
'He was great for his size.'
Allen Iverson was great for any size. He does not need any padded qualifiers to justify the hyperbole around his game. Iverson is a flat out legend. He was simply great.
Period. Paragraph. End of career.
Single defenders could not keep up with Iverson. He was too quick, too fidgety to be contained. It wasn’t a matter of when Iverson would cross you up, but how. No two of his killer crossovers were the same.
His handles and first step defined a generation of wannabe streetballing Iversons. You know the types. The dudes down at the local court, wearing a sleeve on their arm because Iverson did. Same with the tats, same with the do-rag. Then the game starts and these Iverson-lites start doing crossovers at half-court, unguarded but still determined to show off their handles.
But Iverson was inimitable.
Once he would leave his man off balance, nursing broken ankles and a nasty floorburn, he would turn his attack to the forest trees defending the lane.
There was no hesitation. No thought of ‘oh, but my size…’ There was only clear and decisive cutting to the hoop. There was the intentional drawing of contact. There was very often a foul. And also, very often, there was the ball going through the hoop to start yet another three-point play.
Iverson played with a heart as big as the invisible chip on his shoulder. He never lost that chip. Even when he was certified league MVP and taking his sub-par Sixers team single-handedly to the NBA Finals in 2001. The chip remained. When asked repeatedly about the events of once infamous ‘practice’ the chip most definitely remained.
Iverson seemed uncomfortable being the best player in the game after Jordan. He didn’t accept being an heir apparent. He seemed determined to promote an image of himself that went against everything MJ had conveyed with his. Iverson was controversial in interviews, where Jordan had been unfailingly diplomatic. He chose to be loyal to the streets, where Jordan had chosen to be loyal to the boardrooms. Iverson was a walking tattoo parlor menu, while Jordan chose to display no ink.
To fans, Allen Iverson was the changing face of the NBA during the growing pains of not having Michael Jordan around. You always got the feeling that Iverson sensed that, but that he didn’t want to come within a mile of a mantle that weighty.
Instead, we were just treated to some of the best individual basketball we have ever witnessed. We were treated to a singular talent who seemed to give 210% on a nightly basis. We enjoyed a prinkly personality who gave us soundbytes even when he was trying to ignore the media. Yet for all we witnessed of Iverson’s extraordinary talent, we still know so little about him. Ironic for a man whose nickname is The Answer.
So tonight, as Iverson’s number 3 is rightly raised to the rafters, we are left with questions about who the man was. But we are left with nothing but certainty about the basketball player Allen Iverson was.
Allen Iverson was great.
I read a quote from Yankee scouting advisor, George Rose, praising Masahiro Tanaka for a legendary story that he once threw 700 pitches in 5 days. The scout used this as evidence of Tanaka’s unique character.
To follow up, the advisor said, ”When I saw that, I said, ‘Wow, that’s a 17-year-old kid doing that,’” Rose added. “That’s the kind of thing you can’t coach.”
Actually Mr. Rose, in Japan, this workaholic approach to the game is EXACTLY what they coach.
700 pitches in 5 days IS INSANE. No argument there. My argument looks at the broader context of baseball in Japan. High school pitchers are expected to never, ever come out of a game. They are expected to pitch when they are hurt. They are expected to pitch when they are spent. And they are expected to pitch every day. To complain or ask to be taken out is a sign of major weakness.
To a Western baseball mind, this is of course insane. But within the unique culture of Japan, this kind of over-pitching is a cultural point of pride. Japanese baseball coaches scoff at the way American coaches ‘protect’ their pitchers. Of course, there are also many well-documented cases of Japanese pitchers blowing their arms out and having career ending injuries. I do not understand the point of pitching when your body is not capable of it. Take a long term view of these players. They are high schoolers with developing bodies. Protect their futures.
Anyway, back to Tanaka. The fact that he pitched so many pitches in so few days actually makes the reverse case that the Yankee scout attempted to make. It doesn’t show any bravery or uniqueness to me. To me it says that Tanaka was afraid of asking his coach to take him out. To me it says that Tanaka fell in line and behaved how 99 percent of Japanese high school players behave. Tanaka is the status quo in this story. He was afraid of the consequences and perceived weakness of not pitching 700 pitches in 5 days.
Hideo Nomo has the same high pitch count legend. So does Dice-K. If you are a high school ace in Japan, you pitch every game. There is no rotation. It is a anecdote that is more enlightening about the state of Japanese baseball culture than it is in judging the grit of a player’s character.
Tanaka is enormously talented. All I’m questioning is that we evolve the narrative and understand more about the culture that these Japanese players are coming out of. Japanese baseball is not the MLB, it’s not triple A. It’s a particular and proud version of baseball that has many differences, mostly in mentality and training that their American counterparts, especially scouts should take the time to understand.
Derek Jeter was always the Yankee that didn’t seem like a Yankee.
He embodied what was great about the franchise, but somehow always avoided what was reviled about it. It wasn’t uncommon to hear people say ‘I hate the Yankees, but I like Derek Jeter.’ From his first season, he carried himself with class and always played the game the right way. He hustled, he cared about defense, he delivered in the clutch, he won championships, and also spoke in eloquent post-game soundbites. In many ways Jeter was the face of baseball for his era. He managed to distance himself from the steroid scandal, even as many around him were seeing their legacies crumble.
Another astounding thing about Jeter was that you never got the feeling that the pressure got to him. He proudly wore the mantle of ‘face of the Yankees’ with seemingly no worry. Even as a rookie, he carried himself and performed like a veteran. He had the ability to make the biggest, brightest, World Series serious moments feel like a sandlot game. The way he lifted clutch homeruns out of the stadium, Yankee Stadium, with the whimsy of a school boy slugging wiffle balls. The way he tried crazy, unconventional glove flicks with the game on the line—and the way these efforts worked.
As Jeter has announced this will be his final season, here’s to hoping that the new generation of ballplayers will take inspiration from Jeter’s spirit and approach to the game. Even though he was a Yankee, it still always felt good to see him succeed.
Here’s to Mr. November. The Pride of the new Yankees. The blue collar workman for a white collar franchise. The face of sanity amidst the craziest, cartoonish sports team in the world.
Enjoy your final season Derek.
Tokyo Ballers - A day of street hoops in Tokyo. Shot and edited by Oyl Miller.
I’m tired of the bipolar way the media covers Japanese pitchers.
Masahiro Tanaka will either be like Daisuke Matsuzaka (a failure) or they are like Yu Darvish (Cy Young caliber). That’s a bush league way of looking at it.
Do all pitchers from California fall neatly into two categories? Every pitcher is unique. Regardless of their place of birth. Comparisons exist, but should in no way be limited to where a pitcher comes from. Let’s analyze the actual pitching performance. Yu Darvish reminds me of Mark Prior at his peak. Not Hideo Nomo. Not Dice-K.
Let’s look at how these pitchers play the game, and then grade them against the game—not only against their countrymen. Japanese pitching imports have been making their mark in the MLB for decades now. Let’s update how we discuss their game.