From next big thing to yesterday's news
By BILL HARRIS, TORONTO SUN
LOS ANGELES -- Idolizing a young NBA star is like owning a home computer: You're pretty sure yours isn't that old, but it doesn't take long to fall behind. Allen Iverson is 28. Vince Carter is 27. Tracy McGrady is 24.
Sounds like they're all in their prime, right? But as far as their basketball lives are concerned, those three Eastern Conference all-stars have been around a long time.
What's more, every single one of them plays for a team that is below .500, so championship glory does not appear to be on the immediate horizon.
As the NBA all-star weekend continued yesterday, one couldn't help but notice how Carter, Iverson and McGrady aren't big deals in this setting any more.
Part of that is simple familiarity, since they have all been all-stars multiple times. But a lot of it has to do with a youth-obsessed athletic culture that has moved on to the likes of 23-year-old Yao Ming and a pair of precocious 19-year-olds, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
There's a simple newness factor to it as well. Only a year and a half separated the births of Yao and McGrady (notice we didn't say they were separated AT birth). But because this is Yao's second NBA season and it's McGrady's seventh, the former appears to be a fresh discovery while the latter seems like an old movie star who no longer has the looks to be a leading man.
It might be a different story if Iverson, Carter or McGrady were playing on teams that were near the top of the standings. That's what keeps 25-year-old Kobe Bryant and 31-year-old Shaquille O'Neal of the Los Angeles Lakers immune, not to mention the increasingly tedious emotional debate about Bryant's future with the club. He said on Friday he wants to be a Laker for life but he still wants to test the free-agent market this summer, which, you know, really cleared things up.
When considering the accomplishments of Iverson, Carter and McGrady, you have to acknowledge that Iverson at least has been to the NBA final (in 2001). But his fading Philadelphia 76ers recently fired their coach and are labouring at a disappointing 22-31.
"Personally I just want to win a championship," Iverson said. "I don't want to go to the playoffs and not win the whole thing, because it's bittersweet."
Is it realistic to be talking about a title when your team is nine games below the break-even mark?
"If I don't believe it," Iverson said, "then they don't need me on the court."
McGrady's Orlando Magic arguably is the worst team in the NBA, although statistically there's no argument at all.
"I just felt I wanted to go where I could establish my own identity," McGrady said when asked about his controversial move from the Raptors to the Magic in 2000. "Orlando didn't have a superstar player at the time."
True, Orlando may have a superstar now, but it also has only 13 wins in 44 tries this season.
Carter's Raptors, meanwhile, are the valedictorians of this group, sitting at 25-26. Whether a player of Carter's talent and potential should be making a flawed Toronto roster even better than that is a point of endless debate.
"With me, people were saying, 'He's going to be the next this, he's going to be the next that,' " said Carter, recalling his phenom days in the NBA. "It's just like, for the media, to have someone say, 'Oh, he kind of interviews guys like Tom Brokaw.'
"To me, every guy, every athlete, every player should have the opportunity to be the next whoever they are."
Fair enough. So who exactly are Carter, Iverson and McGrady at this point in their careers?
One thing's for sure: They aren't the centres of attention here.