It's recently become a guilty sadness of mine to follow the exploits of former basketball hero Allen Iverson. Financial ruin, alcoholism and divorce– Iverson's post-NBA journey is a tragic fall from glory, one that's hardly gone unnoticed. A Washington Post article published this past April describes a sadly memorable moment from his divorce proceedings: "Iverson stood during a divorce proceeding in Atlanta in 2012 and pulled out his pants pockets. "I don't even have money for a cheeseburger," he shouted towards his estranged wife, Tawanna, who then handed him $61."
With his checkered past littered with fights, arrests, colorful four-lettered words and equally colorful tattoos, I struggle to pinpoint the exact reason why I liked Allen Iverson so much. Maybe it was that Iverson became a first draft pick and one of the most skilled players in the NBA, despite having a small, wiry frame. Maybe it's because he was, and still is, one of the most entertaining players in the NBA. Or maybe it's because watching Allen Iverson crossover a basketball player that's twice his size could make any otherwise-proper spectator cry out, "Oh snap!" in their sassiest voice.
He is talented, there's no doubt about it. But he is also completely, 100% responsible for all of his misfortunes. "He has hit rock bottom, and he just hasn't accepted it yet," says former Philadelphia teammate Roshown McLeod to the Washington Post.
McLeod's commentary on Iverson's denial reminded me of a blog post a friend shared with me a while back, about delusion in sports:
“I once saw [an interview] years ago with a bunch of different NBA players, talking about what they'd be doing if they hadn't played basketball. A collection of dudes who largely couldn't crack 850 on the SAT held forth about how they'd be high powered sports agents, CEOs, fashion designers with their own clothing line, media moguls, and professional rappers. All of them would still be famous. All of them would still be rich. Until they got to Laker great Magic Johnson.
Magic said, "I'd have gone to work on the assembly line in Flint., Michigan. With some luck, I'd have worked myself up to shift manager. If the plant closed down, I'd be in a really tough spot."
Many of those players who earned millions never maximized their playing potential and are struggling financially today, in part because they were never capable of honest self-appraisal.
Today, Magic Johnson is one of the best five players to ever play the game, Magic Johnson Enterpises is worth over a billion dollars, Johnson holds a partnership stake (worth 50 million) in the LA Dodgers, and he has a personal net worth somewhere north of 500 million. Coincidence?”
And that’s when I realized that delusion, usually partnered with denial, is what keeps most of us from moving forward. It clouds our judgment and makes us feel bigger and better than what we really are, preventing honest appraisal and growth. It might be much less tragic, but delusion isn’t just limited to athletes. When was the last time you took a deeply honest look at your health? Or your relationships? Or any of the million other things you ignore when starting a business or pursuing a career?
I recently turned twenty-five. My diet consists mostly of frozen TV dinners, soda and chips. I can count the number of times I’ve gone to the gym in the past six months on one hand. I received a floral arrangement for Valentine’s Day and the dead flowers are still sitting in a vase on my coffee table.
As I sit in my living room, looking at the dried roses sticking out amongst piles of magazines, books and other misplaced items, I begin to honestly assess my life. I eat unhealthily because I haven’t bothered to change my diet since I was in college, but I’m not in college anymore. I haven’t gone to the gym because I’m tired, and yet some days, I can still find the energy to go shopping or watch a movie after work. I haven’t tidied up my living room because– and this was the hardest reality to face– I’ve always been a messy, chaotic person. Mess and chaos might have always been part of my life, but I want to evolve past that to a life that’s settled and organized.
So thanks, Allen Iverson (and Magic Johnson). I'm one step closer to the apartment I want to live in, and the life I want to have.
"Getting rid of a delusion makes us wiser than getting hold of a truth." — Ludwig Borne