Thursday, August 13, 2009

Looking Back at A.I. and Stack

On my lunch break, I was doing my typical Internet browsing when I came upon this post on TrueHoop, a chat with Jerry Stackhouse, coming to realization that Stack is in the same shoes as Allen Iverson — a celebrated veteran still wading through uncertainty as an unsigned free agent.

As a Philadelphian through and through, and an avid UNC fan, I was ecstatic when the Sixers drafted Jerry Stackhouse third overall in 1995. His No. 42 jersey was the first basketball jersey I ever purchased for myself, and I remember desperately wanting his Filas, though I never splurged for them. In his first season, Stack finished 4th in the rookie of the year voting behind winner Damon Stoudamire, Arvydas Sabonis and Joe Smith, averaging 19.2 points per game, 3.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.1 blocks.

When the Sixers followed up the selection of Stackhouse by taking Allen Iverson first overall in 1996, I was all sorts of pumped to watch the young backcourt develop into one of the best in the league in the years to come — Iverson at point and Stack at the two. Unfortunately, things didn't quit work out that way.

After a season together, Stackhouse and Iverson couldn't gain any chemistry as teammates whatsoever. Both dominant scorers who needed shots, there just weren't enough to go around with two young dogs trying to establish themselves with alpha status. Iverson with this shoot-first style and Stack with his single-minded scoring game could not mesh. Their relationship on the court was horrendous, so on Dec. 18, 1997, the Sixers shipped Stackhouse and fellow Tar Heel Eric Montross to Detroit for Theo Ratliff, Aaron McKie and a future first-round pick in a deal that really benefitted both sides.

Stack turned into a reliable scorer, and Theo Ratliff and Aaron McKie helped propel the Iverson-led Sixers to prominence, slowly becoming a playoff team, then a team to make the finals (aided by Ratliff's trade to Atlanta for Dikembe Mutombo). Theo became an All-Star, McKie a Sixth Man of the Year and Iverson an MVP. Stackhouse made the All-Star team in Detroit and developed into a dependable player.

It's kind of ironic that these two former teammates that couldn't get along are now facing nearly identical futures and careers that eerily mirror each other — though of course, Iverson has the much, much more accomplished résumé. Still, the parallels are hard to ignore. At 34 years old, both are former All-Stars that can't find a job. Both are coming off disappointing 2008-09 seasons, Stack's due to injury and Iverson's due to a tough transition to a new team along with injuries. Both are a year removed from very productive seasons: In 2007-08, Stackhouse averaged 10.7 points per game and provided a tough-minded scoring spark for Dallas off the bench; Iverson averaged 26.4 points per game, 3 boards, 7.1 assists, 1.8 steals and played all 82 games for the Nuggets. Both have high career scoring averages (Stack: 18.4; A.I.: 27.1). Both have tried their damnedest but have failed to win a championship.

Here we are, 13 years after these two first took the court together as teammates in Philadelphia, and these two accomplished players who couldn't make it work together find themselves unemployed. For a kid who had so much excitement at the notion of watching these two grow old together as Philadelphia's backcourt, it's sad to see what's happening.

I only wish that the Sixers hadn't signed Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala (and Samuel Dalembert and all the rest) to those outrageously high contracts, because a retirement tour reuniting Iverson and Stackhouse in Philadelphia to wrap up their careers would be a splendid thing to watch. At least for me. Sure as hell beats watching a team that is destined to toil in mediocrity for the foreseeable future, all but assuring low-seeded playoff births, middle-round draft picks and no shot at a title.

The duo of Allen Iverson and Jerry Stackhouse once gave me hope for the Sixers as a franchise. The current version has nice pieces — namely Thaddeus Young and Marreese Speights, along with the potential of Jrue Holiday — but the team certainly doesn't inspire much hope or excitement.

Maybe it's my naivety as a youngster or youthful nostalgia, but I'll always look back at those times fondly. I just hope Stackhouse and Iverson find appropriate endings to their careers. They've certainly earned that.

BallHype: hype it up!

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