According to excerpts from Kent Babb’s new book, “Not a Game: The Incredible Rise and Unthinkable Fall of Allen Iverson,” the former Philadelphia 76ers star was intoxicated for what is probably the most memorable press conference in NBA history — his notorious 2002 “talking about practice” exit interview.
As Babb detailed in an ESPN appearance on Thursday, three fomer members of the Sixers brass — president Pat Croce, general manager Billy King and coach Larry Brown — all shared their suspicions.
After his talk with Brown, Iverson left with a friend and returned later for the news conference. “I assumed he went and fooled around somewhere,” Brown said, tipping his hand up like a bottle, the author wrote in the book.
Before the news conference, King said he could tell that something was off about Iverson, but “if we thought that he was drinking or whatever, we’d have never done it.”
Wrote Babb: “Some were entertained, and others watched the train wreck unfold, knowing from experience that Iverson was drunk.”
King tried to think of a way to stop the press conference, the book said, while Croce, watching on television, said he suspected Iverson was drunk and asked his wife to shut off the TV.
While Iverson does not slur his speech during a 100-second diatribe in which he drops the word “practice” roughly two-dozen times, a Philadelphia Daily News columnist also reportedly confirmed, “He was lit. … Maybe you had to have been around him all the time to know the difference, but we all knew.”
Yet, it’s taken 12 years for this allegation to be made public. For the record, the press conference came four days after Iverson’s 76ers were eliminated in the fifth game of a best-of-five, first-round series against the Boston Celtics — and shortly after his best friend was killed — so in a vacuum it doesn’t really matter a whole heck of a lot whether he was drunk or not, especially since it’s so fondly remembered.
“As far as how I expressed practice, practice, practice over and over again, I wouldn’t take that back,” Iverson told the media gathered for the announcement of his official retirement from the game of basketball in 2013. “Obviously, that sound bite, it’s great for the media. The fans, they love that.”
In retrospect, this Gary Payton story about the rant from 2013 suddenly becomes a lot more interesting.
In the bigger picture, though, this revelation is a concerning one, as reports of Iverson’s issues with alcohol have made headlines in recent years. Among them was a 2013 Washington Post piece by Babb, who detailed Iverson’s alleged hangovers during practices, a divorce proceeding littered with references to alchohol abuse — including one occasion in which he allegedly left his children alone in a hotel room during a family vacation — and a spiral downward from $100-plus million into foreclosure and debt.
That 2002 “practice” press conference was as unforgettable as the player himself, and we can only hope the underlying issue behind those 100 seconds doesn’t ultimately tarnish both. Get well, Allen Iverson.