Wednesday, February 11, 2009

In Search of Yang...or Yin: Part 4

In Part 3, I examined how the circumstances of some yin/yang relationships have made it so the two entities are on the same team, able to harmonize for the betterment of their franchises. Now it's on to the next level of the balance of yin and yang.

Sometimes, yin/yang relationships are revealed through the crossing of paths. For example, Bird and Magic discovered each other through their epic matchup in the 1979 NCAA Championship Game (Side Note: Money Mike has an outstanding piece on their relationship through the form/function lens). The rest is, as they say, history. Almost two decades later, two players were able to meet each other as basketball soulmates in virtually the same collegiate stage. For more, you know where to meet me...

Before the incarnation of Chris Paul, Allen Iverson unquestionably ruled as my favorite basketball player for the past decade. With diminutive stature and gargantuan willpower, AI was my Answer to MJ's retirement. It was more than his crossover, but rather his ability to bring a rebellious style to the Association, and force its acceptance of him as an all-time great in the sport. Besides Kobe, Lebron, and Wade, no player intimidates more when he has the ball in a perimeter isolation situation than Iverson. But back in his Georgetown days, he came face-to-face with his UConn counterpart: Ray Allen.

Jesus Shuttlesworth looks like he's done nothing wrong in his life. He's a gentleman with a clean-cut persona and a perfectly constructed jump shot. He and Iverson had battles during their conjoined times in the Big East, none more famous than their 1996 Big East Tournament duel in which Ray hit the game-winner. Their destinies have been linked since. After being cornerstones to franchises, they have each been traded in hopes of pairing them with a budding small forward—Iverson with 'Melo and Ray with Rashard Lewis. After those respective experiments failed, both have been on the move again, landing with contenders in hopes of getting that elusive championship glory. Ray was successful last season in Boston, and Iverson is struggling to fit in with Detroit; coincidentally, with another systematic player in Rip Hamilton. Both have also maintained a surprisingly high level of productivity despite double-digit years in the Association.

The differences in their respective personalities and visions of Basketball are obvious. While Ray hasn't had the off-court obstacles that Iverson has had, he has had to endure tumultuous periods of his life as well. Both have had bouts with injuries, but it's Iverson that gets praised for his toughness. Everyone designates Iverson with the definition of the crossover dribble and Ray with the blueprint of the perimeter stroke. However, Ray was once a do-it-all highflyer; and AI is an underrated shooter (Note: shooting doesn't equal shot selection). Another interesting difference is that each of their best seasons were under coaches naturally opposite of their basketball souls. AI played under Larry "Play The Right Way" Brown, and Ray had George Karl in Milwaukee. They dueled again in the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals, with Iverson's 76ers besting Allen's Bucks in seven games en route to a Finals loss to the Lakers.

Where these two differ most is how they've altered their visions of Basketball as they've gotten older. Ray has chosen to add structure to his naturally rigid game, while Iverson still has remained steadfast in his nonconformity. This is what intrigues me about AI, seeing as though while he isn't quite the same player as he was in Philly, he can still dominate. He can't carry a team on his back anymore, but is still capable of being a number one option. Normally, with age comes an understanding and harnessing of all that youthful exuberance great players showcase in the beginning of their careers. For example, MJ was a gold-chain wearing, dunk contest winning skywalker in gorgeous sneakers. After the first retirement, he came back more neurotic with an impeccable weapon in the mid-range shot. AI hasn't deviated from being free-flowing one bit, even as his importance on a team gradually dwindles. Even though this season's stats aren't what we're used to from him, they're still better than any point guard not named Paul, Williams or Harris.
Ray Allen, coming off an incline in numbers in then-Seattle, still saw the logic behind sacrificing his self for the ultimate team goal, and was rewarded for it. This isn't to say that Ray is more mature than Iverson, but perhaps AI should consider shrinking his demand for the ball at the top of the key and look to get others involved around him—something which is still an underrated ability he possesses (He gave Aaron McKie a career).

Even though Iverson is frowned upon by some basketball purists, he's more of a lock for the Hall of Fame than Ray Allen; and the one with the bigger casual fan base. AI is the transcendant talent, While Ray—due to his structure—is the borderline great player. More people can instantly appreciate an Iverson crossover than Ray coming off a stagger screen for a three; each are beautiful in their own way. Ray does have the ring AI wants, and that is the awkward game-winning jumper in the Big East Tourney that the former Husky has over the former Hoya.


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