Larry Brown's twisted wish: Iverson in 76ers' front office

Posted: June 18, 2015

From his office at Southern Methodist or from the road during a recruiting trip, Larry Brown still finds time to pick up the phone and make another plea on Allen Iverson's behalf, too blinded by loyalty and ego to understand what a laughable idea he's peddling.

Through the team's part-owner David Blitzer and Iverson's longtime manager Gary Moore, Brown has spent months lobbying the 76ers to hire Iverson as an assistant general manager. It would be a terrible move, treating an NBA franchise as if it were a halfway house where Iverson could put the broken pieces of his life together again. But Brown has pushed it anyway, in the hope of accomplishing an improbable goal: saving Iverson from himself.

"I just wish there was some way that he could be involved," Brown said in a telephone interview Friday. "Just teach him about the organization and let him figure it out, figure out how he can help. He can certainly judge talent. He certainly has people's respect. Kids will listen to anything he said. He's certainly bright as hell.

"Just teach him how to be involved with the NBA, whatever level you want, but I think ultimately I'd like to see him get into management. I think he'd be a huge asset."

During a Comcast SportsNet telecast of a Sixers game in March, Iverson expressed an interest in joining the team's front office: "I would like to be even in that war room - even if they don't go with my decision or whatever, just to have an opinion and putting out what I think and trusting the organization to do what's right."

Nevertheless, if there's anything to be learned from the new book Not a Game, author Kent Babb's honest and unflinching look at Iverson's professional and personal deterioration, it's that letting Iverson back inside their organization is the last thing the Sixers ought to do.

From the emotional and physical cruelty to which Iverson subjected his ex-wife, Tawanna, to the alcohol abuse that prevented him from being the husband, father, and player he could have been, Not a Game shows Iverson as he has been and is, not as those who root for him or love him wish he were. He has been a 6-foot Godzilla from Georgetown, trampling through every organization he's played for, blowing through his millions until he went broke, destroying many of his most important relationships, leaving nothing but wreckage in his wake.

The Sixers, through a team spokesman, declined to comment on Brown's efforts, but they have to know: To invite Iverson in is to cede at least some control to him, to risk being seduced by his in-the-moment sincerity only to regret it later. Just last year, Babb reveals, when the Sixers retired Iverson's No. 3, they gave Moore veto power over which media members would be credentialed for the ceremony. They want to keep Iverson close, but not too close.

Still, Brown keeps up his behind-the-scenes campaign. He went on and on about a speech Iverson delivered to the SMU players during the 2013-14 season, how he electrified those kids who had grown up watching him.

"You've never heard anything like it," Brown said. "Nobody grabbed their attention like Allen Iverson." What Brown didn't mention is that, according to Babb's book, SMU's athletic department had to pay Iverson $5,000 just to coax him into showing up - that every request of Iverson, no matter how modest, comes with a cost.

Besides, there's more going on here than just Brown's attempts to aid the most talented and tempestuous player he's ever coached. To Blitzer, whom he met through a mutual friend, Brown couches his support for Iverson by suggesting the Sixers ought to hire more "basketball people" in their player-personnel department - a not-so-subtle shot at general manager Sam Hinkie and his fondness for analytics.

"I've talked to David about a number of things," Brown said, "but not specifically about Allen." But Moore talks to Blitzer frequently, to maintain the connection between Iverson and the franchise, and Moore and Brown have known each other since Brown began coaching the Sixers and Iverson in 1997. So through Moore, Brown can make a more impassioned appeal for Iverson, to remind people about that 2001 run to the NBA Finals and the spectacular scoring displays, to ask them to forget everything else.

"What did he mean to Philly?" Brown said. "What does this franchise need more than anything right now, besides players? It needs a shot in the arm, something where you can say, 'They're trying to do it the right way.' "

In Brown's mind, though, the right way is always his way, and the fact that, as he put it, he has "no pop" with Hinkie and the people in charge of the Sixers sure seems to eat at him. He lamented that, with the Sixers' holding the No. 3 pick in this month's NBA draft, no one from the team's player-personnel department had sought his insight into guard Emmanuel Mudiay, whom Brown had recruited to SMU before Mudiay decided instead to play professionally in China.

"Shoot, how about calling Larry Brown about Emmanuel Mudiay?" Brown said. "He's family. I've spoken to Minnesota. I've spoken to [Lakers GM] Mitch Kupchak. They have 1 and 2. I've talked to No. 5 [Orlando] about him. Again, they have their way of running things."

Yes, they do. It doesn't involve listening to Brown for much of anything, and it won't involve Iverson's working toward a position of power in the franchise, because that won't help him or them. Brown wants to come off as a savior here, as an old coach trying to rescue a great and troubled athlete. But only one person can save Allen Iverson, and over all these years, throughout this self-serving, fruitless crusade, Larry Brown has refused to reconcile himself to that hard, hard truth.

msielski@phillynews.com

@MikeSielski

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