I want to hear from Allen Iverson's fans now.

Tell me about his heart. Tell me about his courage, his ferocity. Tell me about his "intangibles."

In November 2001, I wrote a column suggesting that Iverson's fans are victims of hype-nosis, that they're so awed by the sheer numbers and flashiness that they refuse to recognize the flaws.

That column generated a lot of e-mail response. Many agreed with me, but many more passionately disagreed, ranging from those who called me nasty names to those who said I was the one in denial.

So, what do you think now?

What do you think after Al says he won't play unless he starts?

In case you missed it, Iverson showed up just before a recent game, telling interim Sixers coach Chris Ford that he was reporting for duty. Ford said fine, but since Iverson hadn't practiced and Ford didn't know what kind of shape he was in, he wouldn't start.

Iverson, insulted, refused to play. He said: "I'm a starter. Why would I come off the bench? . . . A lot of people might look at it like it's a selfish thing or something like that. But . . . why wouldn't I start? I mean, I'm the franchise player here. I don't know any franchise players that come off the bench."

It's obvious from this rant that Iverson's focus is squarely on . . . Iverson. If he really wanted to make a point, he'd do it like this: When the coach called his number, he'd go in and prove he's healthy. He'd let his play do the talking, instead of that runaway yap.

Since when did "starter" become a position, anyway? Or "franchise player"? Iverson's job is to be a "player," and when he chooses not to, he isn't hurting the coach as much as he is cheating the good folks of Philly who collectively will put $13.5 million in Iverson's pocket this season alone.

A couple days after this incident, a Philly newspaper columnist who doubles as a TV analyst suggested that both Ford and Iverson were wrong in this incident — that Ford shouldn't have questioned his star and Iverson shouldn't have bristled when he did.

Yet another columnist, noting that Ford says his job is to consider the good of the team, said: "Actually, it's just one of them. In the world of the NBA, appeasing your star would qualify as another."

Stuff like this makes me want to pull out what's left of my hair. This is just typical of the problem with the NBA specifically and pro sports in general these days: Too few people have the courage to draw lines. Too few are willing to say THIS is right and THAT is wrong.

Here we have a columnist for a major metropolitan newspaper, suggesting that a coach has numerous jobs, only one of which is the good of the team. Does this reasoning reek to anybody else out there? Sure, a coach at times may have to do something to keep a player happy. But if the gyrations required to do that get in the way of the good of the team, well, then the player loses. Even if he is a star.

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To his credit, Ford has tried to draw a line in Philly, taking a stand with a guy who has always intimidated coaches into tiptoeing around him. Chances are, Ford sat back as an assistant and watched Iverson run that franchise, and it galled him. So when he got a chance to do something about it, he did.

In fairness, it should be noted that many of the fans and media in Philly, after coddling Iverson for the past eight seasons, have finally become disaffected. They've regretfully come to the conclusion that the ego has grown greater than the sum of his contributions.

Which they should have seen coming, a long time ago. The signs were there. If they'd just been unafraid to step back and look at things as they are, instead of how they wish they were, they would have seen it.


E-mail: rich@desnews.com

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