If Allen Iverson is the Answer, then the Question, allegedly, is this: Who throws his wife onto the lawn, naked, in the middle of the night, in the manner of an aggrieved Fred Flintstone putting out the cat? And make no mistake, the Iverson "story" has become a cartoon, just another summer serial, a diverting hip-hopera about a rich family's domestic disharmony: The Magnificent Ambersons plus The Battling Bickersons equals The Idling Iversons.
In short, the Iversons are The Osbournes (a family putting the funk back in dysfunction) served up in slices to an insatiable media. The Philadelphia police apparently see them as TV programming, which may explain why—before Iverson was charged on July 16 with four felonies and 10 misdemeanors, to which he was expected to plead not guilty—detective Mike Chitwood said smugly to the assembled cameras, "Stay tuned."
We did stay tuned, and police leaked word that "smeared blood" had been found in Iverson's Escalade. Of course, days later those same police quietly acknowledged that the stains in question were "definitely not blood" and "probably came from the lads." Which suggests that forensics experts in Philadelphia don't know Type A from Hi-C. Keystone State, Keystone Kops.
Their case hangs largely on Iverson's accuser, 21-year-old Charles Jones, who said the Sixers' guard, while looking for his wife in a West Philadelphia apartment, threatened to shoot him. But Jones's 911 call came about 10 hours after the incident, and neighbors labeled him to the Philadelphia Daily News as an eccentric fond of "prancing in the halls half-naked." Most alarming of all, Jones is said to wear "poom-poom pants"—described as revealing, cutoff jeans. Granted, these may be mud smears, as opposed to blood smears. But since at week's end no gun had been found and Iverson's wife had filed no charges, a trial would likely come down to Jones's word against Iverson's. And that, frankly, should scare the poom-poom pants off the prosecution.
Sportswriters are, naturally, our nation's moral guardians, preposterous people like myself, affronted by AI's cornrows, if only because my own cornfield is fallow. Indeed, most of the high-minded columns on Iverson have presumed his guilt, in part because of a previous weapons charge against him, but also because sportswriting—and sports radio and sports television—is incapable of acknowledging shades of gray. You're a great man ( Sammy Sosa in '98) or a great Satan ( Sosa in '02), but you can never be a little of both, for that would make you complex and—God forbid—fully human.
A spokesman for Reebok, with whom Iverson has a $50 million endorsement deal, shamelessly said the star was arrested merely because of his celebrity. (How could the shoemakers possibly presume to know that?) At the same time Iverson has unmistakably been coddled because of that celebrity, allowed to stay at home, in a 15-room mansion, until his attorney returned from a European vacation, at which time he would surrender to police. His house arrest became House Party 4.
Callers to sports radio shows are told, above all, to "have a take." And so Iverson's fame must be one or the other—his bane or his benefactor. It is not allowed to be both, though of course it is exactly that.
Whatever the outcome of his case, it may already be too late for Iverson, who is rapidly realizing the worst possible fate for an American, which is to become ridiculous. (Ask Bud Selig, or the frozen corpse of Ted Williams. And July isn't even over yet.) When an aerial view of your estate appears frequently on television, something has gone seriously wrong in your life. And that aerial view appeared endlessly last week, embracing the large crowds outside Iverson's gate, which has become just another Philly tourist stop, after the Liberty Bell and the statue of Rocky, much to the dismay of Iverson's Main Line neighbors.
One of those wealthy neighbors is The Sixth Sense director M. Night Shyamalan, whose new film, Signs, about crop circles, may have been inspired by the Answer's hairdo. But even as he gets the full O.J. treatment, Iverson is so far guilty of nothing more than bad hair, bad language and egregiously bad judgment. It shouldn't be difficult, in a short off-season, to stay out of trouble. Yet athletes continue to surprise us in that regard. Before attending his first training camp with the Green Bay Packers this summer, rookie running back Najeh Davenport allegedly entered a stranger's closet in a dormitory at Barry ( Fla.) University at 6 a.m. and took a dump in her laundry basket. Not doing so, it seems, never occurred to him.
Of course The Iversons are not at all funny. They're not a midsummer replacement for The Osbournes. The Iverson case—at once trivialized and trumped-up—is nothing to wallow in, even as we're doing so right here. Domestic-violence crimes involving guns are all too common in America. You needn't be M. Night Shyamalan to know how these stories often end.