On Friday afternoon, inside the upscale St. Regis hotel in midtown Manhattan, Allen Iverson signed a two-year/$4 million contract with Turkish club Besiktas.
The former 76ers star guard, who returned to Philly last season to play 25 games, will be in Turkey a week from today and is slated to make his Besiktas debut on Nov. 20. After signing the contract on the podium, and posing for pictures with his new No. 3 jersey, Iverson answered questions about his overseas move. And there are plenty of questions to answer when a former NBA All-Star, one of the league's most famous players, can't get a job in the NBA and instead becomes the first big-time star to play in Europe.
If you want to watch the videos from today's press conference, there should be one embedded in this post and another in the Deep Sixer video player below on the right. The one embedded is of Iverson initially signing the contract and then posing with his new jersey. You can hear the music playing in the background. All and all, it was quite a surreal scene.
Let's attack each topic, one by one. First, as all Sixers fans know, Iverson did not finish last season with the Sixers because of a sickness with his daughter. After the season ended, Iverson's wife also filed for divorce. Combine those things and it becomes a pertinent question: Where do those issues stand?
"It’s definitely resolved," Iverson said. "As far as our situation, me and my wife, it’s a work in progress, but it’s a lot better than it was. My daughter is better. If those situations weren’t better at this time, there’s no way I would have made the decision that I made to sign."
Continued Iverson: "Especially dealing with having to play in a league I’ve never played in, being in an environment I’ve never been in, I think dealing with those family issues, it would have made it extremely hard for me – even more hard for me – being in a new area and having to deal with those things. I think the transition will be a lot easier now that my home situation is stable."
Iverson said he is hopeful that sometime very soon his family will join him in Turkey. He said he's been "begging" his wife and he will continue begging her.
"I think we’ll move there all together," Iverson said. "I definitely can’t stand being without them."
Second: Why isn't Iverson in the NBA? Did he tell NBA teams he was willing to come off the bench? Is he using this contract as a tryout to get back into the NBA?
On coming off the bench: “Through my manager and Leon Rose, he spoke to teams and assured them that I would help any team in any capacity and if the situation was right, I think that situation was so blown out of proportion," Iverson said. "And me never having to deal with it professionally, in college, in high school, I never had to deal with that situation. It was something new to me. I think it was blown out of proportion. And I’m a competitor. Everything I do, I always want to come in first. I never get into anything, especially in basketball, in which I think I’m not the best at. I don’t go into a situation trying to be No. 2, I try to be No. 1 ... I wouldn’t put my talent behind anybody … I just believe in my talent and believe in myself and I wanted to help an NBA basketball team, but that part of my life, obviously, at this point, is done with. I’m just trying to make the best of the situation I’m put in."
On using this to prove he can still play in the NBA: "I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t an issue, but I want to show everybody that I can play basketball. It’s not just the NBA ... I don’t think my basketball talents have anything to do with the reasons I’m not on an NBA roster right now. I think it has a lot to do with a lot of other things, negative things, that I could have had a better grip on. A lot of me not being in the NBA is my fault, but I can’t cry over that. I have to move forward … I’ve done a lot of things in my life that I’m not proud of, but I have to move on."
On why he's not in the NBA: "There’s a lot of things that I’m not proud of. I came into this league 21 years old, never having nothing in my whole life and then given everything in the world as far as financially. I met a lot of people that were bad people that I had around me. I met a lot of people that were good people. I had to, at a young age, to distinguish who were good and who were bad. And I made a lot of mistakes along the way thinking I knew things that I didn’t know. A lot of times I was a fish out of water, I thought I was in the biggest ocean in the world. I made mistakes, so me not being on an NBA roster, and me being bad mouthed throughout the league, a lot of things I have to own up to. A lot of those things were true. I made a lot of mistakes. And obviously it cost me."
Another major contributor, or so it is believed, with Iverson signing overseas is his financial situation, that he needs the money more than he necessarily needs to keep playing. Some of this stems from an article last spring about Iverson's gambling and drinking problems. In that article, Iverson's life was portrayed as "spiraling out of control." Iverson addressed that, as well as the financial issue.
"When you’re going through a divorce and you’ve been with that person all your life, that’s the only love you’ve ever known, the only girlfriend you’ve ever had, the only wife you’ve ever had then, yeah, I would say my life was spiraling out of control because I was losing my best friend," Iverson said. "Obviously it was a big blow and it was something I never had to deal with ... You can be the toughest man in the world, but some things you can’t control. You can’t go off one report and one person saying one thing about the individual and because that person is so connected with that one person that the whole world believes what that one person says. That was the tough part. But I think the most important thing of that situation is that all of the true fans that supported me throughout my career stood by me."
On money: "It’s not a problem, it’s not a problem – money. Obviously if it was about money, I would jump out there and say, ‘You want me to come off the bench? How much money are you paying?' It wouldn’t be a big deal. It’s not about money or anything like that. It’s the fact that I want to play and contribute what I can give to a basketball team. I made a ton of money playing in the NBA and all I want to do is play basketball and be happy. I’m at the point in my career where mentally and physically I know I can play basketball and that’s what I want to do. If I can’t play in the NBA, but I want to play basketball, that’s a decision I have to make."
Last season with the Sixers, Iverson was dealing with a knee issue. He missed a handful of games because of injury and, all Sixers fans will attest, you know the guy is hurting if he can't play on game day. Iverson said, because he hasn't been under contract, that he hasn't been playing contact basketball, but that he "knows what it takes" to be successful on the court and that he has no doubts he'll be able to get himself back to that form. More specifically, Iverson believes he can still play like the Allen Iverson we all know.
"Definitely. And that even goes all the way back to the coming-off-the-bench thing," Iverson said. "I felt like I had so much of a belief and a confidence in my basketball ability, what I can do on the basketball court, not calling it arrogance or cockiness or anything else, just the belief in what I can do, that’s what had me doubt whether I wanted to play as far as having to come off the bench behind guys that I thought, in my mind, weren’t better than me and didn’t deserve to be ahead of me. Those things like that allowed me to feel like I wasn’t the Allen Iverson that I was accustomed to be. As strange as it may seem, I had doubts in myself at being a competitor. Especially when the whole world started talking about it and debating whether I should or I shouldn’t.”
Sitting inside that press conference, listening to the Turkish music, and seeing Iverson hold up a white jersey that didn't belong to an NBA team -- it all seemed strange somehow. Possibly even sad, that one of the world's most celebrated players, and one of the NBA's icons, no longer held a place in the league.
"I wouldn’t say sad," Iverson said. "I’m playing basketball. Maybe it’s not my first option to play overseas, but I wouldn’t say there’s anything sad about this. A lot of guys don’t play in the NBA the number of years I played, or accomplished any of the things I have, or experienced the things I’ve experienced. I don’t look at it as sad … maybe the NBA part of it, the ending, I could understand that."
Iverson said, in the end, this came down to "being wanted."
"My whole thing was being wanted and being accepted by a ball club," Iverson said. "That was the most important thing to me: to be wanted."
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