Friday, November 17, 2006

Iverson Paid for Funeral, But Can't Stop Its Cause

Allen Iverson this week did something that a bunch of people were quick to label as good, a few to dismiss as self-serving and the rest of us, I think, to receive as basically the only thing Iverson could think to do, which makes him fairly human in the face of a tragedy that transcends stardom.

When Iverson offered to pay for the funeral of Philadelphian Kevin Johnson, he set into motion several conversations at once. The root was the circumstance of Johnson's death itself: It came from complications more than three years after Johnson, then 19, was shot and left paralyzed because he refused to surrender his Iverson replica jersey to a group of teenagers at a Philly trolley stop.

Iverson was, and remained, Johnson's favorite player. Johnson, who lived as a quadriplegic with his mother until his death Tuesday, will be buried with an Iverson jersey. Technically, his ventilator failed late last week, leaving Johnson in a vegetative state; but more broadly, his life changed forever because somebody was willing to shoot him over a uniform.

And Iverson himself can do absolutely nothing about any of that, no more than he can prevent the next crime that's related to a material thing with some connection to sports. He couldn't prevent Johnson's shooting any more than Michael Jordan could prevent the 2005 death of Steven Terrett, who died on Chicago's South Side after apparently being shot by robbers who wanted his brand new Air Jordans.

So Iverson did the only thing he could think of, which was to call Johnson's grieving mother and ask if he could cover the cost of the funeral. Of course he can, and of course it is a decent and grounded gesture, even if it represents the slipperiest of slopes.

I have no trouble believing Iverson was hit hard by the news. Despite his own history with weapons (Iverson once pulled a gun on a cousin while trying to locate his wife, with whom he was feuding), the Sixers' star sounded genuinely anguished Wednesday while discussing Johnson's fate.

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