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Practice?

A few hours ago I posted DJ Steve Porter’s remix of Vince Offer’s Slap Chop ad. More recently, DJ Porter made a remix featuring the famous press conference in which Philadelphia 76er basketball star Allen Iverson responded to questions about his missing practice. The press conference took place in May 2002, after the 76ers were eliminated from the playoffs. See below for a video of the actual conference, and click here for the transcript.

The remix is good fun, which is why I’m posting it, but the issues raised by Iverson in the press conference are interesting in their own right. Before moving on to the substantive issues, I’ll add that the remix focuses on Iverson, but also includes bits from other iconic sports press conferences of recent years and an odd Joe Namath incident. (And I was tipped off to the remix this morning by a Joe Posnanski post.)

Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:

“If I can’t practice, I can’t practice. It is as simple as that. It ain’t about that at all. It’s easy to sum it up if you’re just talking about practice. We’re sitting here, and I’m supposed to be the franchise player, and we’re talking about practice. I mean listen, we’re sitting here talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, but we’re talking about practice. Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game last it’s my last but we’re talking about practice man. How silly is that?

Now I know that I’m supposed to lead by example and all that but I’m not shoving that aside like it don’t mean anything. I know it’s important, I honestly do but we’re talking about practice. We’re talking about practice man. (laughter from the media crowd) We’re talking about practice. We’re talking about practice. We’re not talking about the game. We’re talking about practice. When you come to the arena, and you see me play, you’ve seen me play right, you’ve seen me give everything I’ve got, but we’re talking about practice right now. (more laughter)

Iverson has developed a reputation as a selfish player over the years. In the early part of this decade, his ongoing feud with his coach, Larry Brown, was frequently covered in the press. This season, after he was traded from the Denver Nuggets to the Detroit Pistons for Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess, Denver thrived but Detroit didn’t. This seemed like the final proof of his selfishness, in contrast in particular to Billups’ team-first approach, which led to Denver’s deep run in the playoffs.

I’m not all that interested these days in NBA basketball. But this morning, when I watched the remix and then went back to see the original press conference, I was struck by the contrast between Iverson’s reputation and that of the great Boston Celtic Bill Russell. As I mentioned in a post yesterday, last Thursday I read Bill Russell’s new book Red and Me, in which he recounts his friendship with his coach Red Auerbach. Russell is regarded as the greatest team player in the history of the NBA. The 11 titles his Celtic teams won in 13 years pretty much remove any space for argument on this. But Russell didn’t practice, and his description of how Auerbach came to him one day to suggest that he skip practice is one of the best stories in the book.

Well, to be more precise, Russell didn’t scrimmage. One day at practice, in Russell’s rookie year, Auerbach asked him what was wrong with him and he said he was tired. Auerbach suggested he not scrimmage that day. Russell writes:

From then on, once I got in shape, I’d come to practice and run through our plays with everyone else because that was something we needed to do together. But when it came time to scrimmage, I went up in the stands with a cup of tea and watched. … Eventually, tea in the stands became my new routine, and I almost never scrimmaged again. Later, I heard from players whose coaches knew about this, and they all thought that Red was kissing my ass. … Red’s perspective on this was unique. He understood that it was tough enough to play NBA basketball, and that fatigue was a major factor. So why would you invite more fatigue?

The next year, Auerbach suggested to Russell that every so often he take some days off. Later in the book, we learn that the agreement Russell and Auerbach had about Russell’s not always practicing played a role in Russell’s decision to become the player-coach of the Celtics when Auerbach retired in 1966. Auerbach suggested to Russell that he coach, but Russell initially demurred. Then “I thought about the fact that everyone around the league knew that Bill Russell didn’t always practice. A lot of Red’s fellow coaches felt strongly, ‘If Russell played for me, he’d be practicing like everyone else!’ None of them knew anything about the way Red and I worked together … .”

Maybe Iverson needed Auerbach as his coach.

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