As 76ers legend and eventual Hall of Famer Allen Iverson draws closer each day to reality that he could possibly be a member of lowly Memphis Grizzlies in 2009-10 and one time Sixer great Jerry Stackhouse remains an unrestricted free agent deep into September, Philadunkia’s Michael Kaskey-Blomain took a moment to look back at the 1996-97 Philadelphia 76ers and ponder what could have been…
The career of an NBA player is riddled with uncertainty and doubt. A new game, new contract, or new season isn’t promised to anyone, and even those at the pinnacle of the sport are not immune to the potential pitfalls placed in front of players.
Some are thrown from the top due to injuries (Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill), while others struggle with off-court issues that can derail or destroy a promising young career, while still others hit a wall where they become viewed as over-aged and undesirable. Whatever the case, the NBA is an unforgiving setting, where today’s triumph could quickly become tomorrow’s tragedy.
This is why, as an NBA fan, one should never be too shocked be any player development. However, with that being said, I could not help but to be surprised by a couple developments I noticed while gazing at the 1996-1997 Philadelphia 76ers roster poster that hangs on my basement wall. Not only do none of the players from the team still play for the Sixers, only two were on a NBA roster last year, and as of now, both of these former 76ers remain unsigned as we draw closer to the start of the 2009-2010 season.
Now this wouldn’t be a big deal or come as a surprise if we were talking about mid-level NBA role players who served their time in a Sixers uniform and have since moved on to other aspects of life. No. We are talking about two franchise-caliber players; two players that were collegiate studs, who were selected in the top three in the draft, and during their primes were among the NBA’s elite. Therefore, the uncertainty of an NBA career never hit me harder than when I realized that both Jerry Stackhouse and the incomparable Allen Iverson, the backbone of that 1996-97 Sixers team and the duo once considered the future of the 76ers franchise, were struggling to find workthis off-season. How could two players that have accomplished so much throughout their basketball careers be openly searching for a job…and struggling? Such a situation led me to come to a realization: The NBA is a cruel place.
Wasn’t Allen the toast of the League just a few short years ago? Was it really that long ago that Stackhouse flushed a devastating reverse dunk on Eric Meek and Cherokee Parks of Duke and was crowned the next Jordan as he headed out of North Carolina into the League? I guess a requirement to be an NBA G.M. is a short memory span, considering the fact that every single one in the League has forgotten what players like Allen and Jerry can do.
Although the careers might not be over for these ex-all-stars, their time as the brightest stars in the night sky that is the NBA has certainly passed, leaving one to wonder what could have been. What if the two were able to coexist in Philly early in their careers? After all during Allen’s rookie season (1996-97), Iverson (23.5 ppg.) and Stackhouse (20.7 ppg.) were one of the highest scoring duos in the NBA. Who knows what heights they could have lifted this franchise to if they and their entourages could have just gotten along. What if Allen had been able to use those 2001 Finals to launch a string of Finals appearances that eventually decorated his own fingers, rather than supplying more bling to Shaq, Kobe, and Phil? Speaking of that 2001 season, did anyone think at the time that the NBA’s two leading scorers from that season — Allen at 31 ppg. and J-Stack then of the Detroit Pistons at 29.8 ppg. — would both be out of a job a few short years later? What if in the 2006 NBA Finals Stackhouse and the Mavs did NOT blow a 2-0 lead over the Miami Heat and loose in six games?
Since it seems highly unlikely that the Sixers will reunite the once-explosive back-court, one can only hope that both players find suitable homes to continue their careers. Both players have accomplished much during their time on the court, but both have fallen short of the ultimate goal of winning a ring. It is easy to look back on a career and point at what was wrong, but it is more rewarding to focus on triumphs, which these guys had many of. However, neither seems content with resting on their legacies. Rather it seems that both have more to give to the game, assuming that the game is willing to take them back, which I have quickly realized, like most things in the NBA, is not guaranteed.