Less than three months into his rookie season, Sixers point guard Allen Iverson has emerged as the NBA's top conversation piece. While his catlike quickness is dazzling, his flamboyant mishandling of the ball is disruptive. His confidence is admirable—except when it turns into arrogance, as it did in two games against the Bulls. Iverson's incessant trash talking prompted Michael Jordan to pull him aside and remind him to respect his elders. The 21-year-old Iverson's response: He didn't have to respect anyone.
"If I was one of his teammates, I'd crack him upside the head," declared Jordan's teammate Dennis Rodman (of all people).
It may happen. Through Sunday, Iverson was averaging 22.2 points, 6.8 assists and 2.24 steals. But he was shooting only 39.5% and was first in the league in turnovers, with 5.0 per game, two of the many reasons that Philadelphia had lost 18 of 19 and fallen into the Atlantic Division cellar, a half-game behind the woeful Celtics. Among the 76ers' players, Iverson's act is already wearing thin. "The kid is a great talent," says one Sixer, "but we need him to grow up—fast."
"I don't know why he's so confident," said the Rockets' Charles Barkley of Iverson before Houston beat Philly last Friday 120-99. "If I'd lost 16 out of 17, I'd think, Damn, maybe I'm not that good. Because I don't think even the crappiest team I ever played on lost 16 out of 17."
Sources close to the 76ers say that as the losses mounted last week, Iverson's teammates were openly grousing about how little they were getting the ball. Iverson wasn't the only target of the complaints; his backcourt partner, Jerry Stackhouse, also likes to shoot first and pass later. When Stackhouse was a rookie last season, he, too, put up gaudy numbers (including a 19.2-point scoring average) while dissing veterans and touting his own talent. Fellow North Carolina alumnus Jordan was so disgusted he vowed to make Stackhouse pay, then kept his word by burning him one night for 48 points.
Sixers president Pat Croce suspects that Iverson will experience a similar comeuppance. "He'll learn the hard way," says Croce. "He's been on his own his whole life. He's used to trial and error." Croce does admit, "The turnovers make you cringe, but that's part of the package."
In the meantime Croce feeds off Iverson's jabbering. "I laugh," he says. "When Allen said he didn't have to respect anyone, what I think he really meant was he doesn't have to fear anyone."
Evidently that includes anyone on his own club. Iverson walked in late for a Jan. 8 home game against the Mavericks and, say 76ers sources, shrugged off his tardiness—at least until he learned that he had lost his starting job for the night to Doug Overton. (Iverson nevertheless squeezed in 31 minutes, 14 shots, 22 points and three turnovers in the 111-93 defeat.)
Iverson's moves and speed are still so esteemed that when the Warriors played Philly on Jan. 3, Golden State veteran Latrell Sprewell checked to make sure his teammates' ankles were taped lest they suffer a sprain reacting to Iverson's lightning-fast first step. Sprewell's counsel helped, sort of: Iverson scored 26 points but turned the ball over four times in Golden State's 122-114 overtime win.