Once upon a time it was hard to decipher what was more difficult to stomach: the foolish, detrimental behavior of a professional athlete or the apologists disguised as their inner circle, eager to excuse the inexcusable. And then there came Allen Iverson, who didn't make it difficult at all.

We can sit around and pretend that Iverson was victimized last week. That somehow he was outed and his personal business was thrown out into the street. But the truth is, from missed practices to excessive tardiness to a flagrant disdain for authority in any venue he's frequented in the past decade, nothing new about Iverson's habits was revealed in the last few days.

If only the same can be said about the rest of us.

Sadly, including myself.

It's been a difficult week, folks! I'll just put it out there. After revealing what's been heard for years about Iverson's drinking and penchant for the casinos, I've received the kind of beatdown only Joe Frazier can relate to from the pummeling he suffered against George Foreman decades ago.

I've been vilified and excoriated, called a turncoat and a sellout, unworthy of so much as a handshake from several members of Iverson's former team, the 76ers - the last people in need of more adversaries.

The truth is, I deserve it. Despite the objectivity exercised while disseminating the news, it's impossible to be completely impartial about someone you've known for 14 years and are incredibly fond of despite the innumerable mistakes he's made.

The thing is, if I'm honest enough to express these feelings about Iverson, to stand up and say none of us who care should sit idly by and act as if the combination of Iverson's history in the fast lane and his present family issues will be healed by silence, where are his so-called friends, the ones with the all-is-well expressions while knowing there's mounting evidence to the contrary?

No one said Iverson is an alcoholic or a gambling addict. What was reported was that he's drinking and gambling too much, enough to concern quite a few people in the NBA.

Saying what needed to be said is something I don't regret. The truth hurts sometimes, particularly when it involves someone at a low point in their life. Electing to stand alone, however, while a bevy of individuals - former teammates, locker room personnel, team executives, hangers-on, and his business manager - stand around in silence was perhaps the most questionable decision of all.

Most of us have heard about the mistakes Iverson has made, but what about the teammates who witnessed them? What about Iverson being in casinos at 3 a.m. on game days? What about calls into this newspaper's newsroom of Iverson being in Philadelphia while his daughter was ill - when Iverson's closest confidant, Gary Moore, was reported saying Iverson was in Atlanta?

Before any of that, there was Iverson going from Denver to Detroit to Memphis inside of two years, missing 82 games along the way, and struggling to find a job before the Sixers came to the rescue two months ago. All while his health was deteriorating, reportedly along with that of his daughter Messiah - before the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported his wife, Tawanna, had filed for a divorce last week and was pursuing custody of their five children.

Is this living life in darkness? Behind closed doors? In privacy, where no one could dare opine about business they knew nothing of?

To swear such things is utter nonsense. Totally undeserving of any discussion. But this is the way it has always been with Iverson, as it is with most athletes.

Associates swear they were completely oblivious to anything Tiger Woods was doing. Michael Vick's boys had no problem with anything related to dog fighting until they stopped getting paid and were threatened with jail time once the feds came knocking on their door.

So many talk so much about how much they love Iverson. So much so that once we all heard of the divorce, those same "friends" feigned ignorance or a none-of-my-business mentality.

Iverson is human. Losing his career and family all at once - these things can happen.

"It's always hard for friends and loved ones to step in and do what's right," former Temple coach John Chaney said last week. "But that is what friends and loved ones do. They must."

Especially with Iverson.

Times right now are not about what Iverson has been doing. It's about what he'll do next. While living fast, he's potentially losing the one thing that means most to him: his family.

Focusing on family would be a beautiful thing for anyone to do under such difficult circumstances, but how often does that happen - particularly with someone living the life he's lived?

And those closest to him sat around, watched, and did virtually nothing.

Contact columnist Stephen A. Smith at 215-854-5846 or ssmith@phillynews.com.