kottke.org posts about Allen Iverson

A history of the crossover dribbleMay 26 2011

The NY Times has a great video on the crossover dribble, one of the most effective moves in basketball. Includes interviews with Allen Iverson, Tim Hardaway, and Dwyane Wade. (thx, aaron)

Allen Iverson goes to TurkeyJan 04 2011

Having lost a step and the confidence of NBA general managers, Allen Iverson is playing professional basketball in Istanbul. Philadelphia Magazine tracks the former Sixers star down to see how he's faring in his new job.

With his NBA career over, his marriage in trouble, and rumors swirling about drinking and money problems, the greatest Sixer of his era finds himself playing minor-league basketball in Turkey and spending his nights at a T.G.I. Friday's in Istanbul. Isn't it, weirdly, exactly how we always thought it would end for Allen Iverson?

Better living through self deceptionMay 24 2007

Interesting article about how people tell their stories and think of their past experiences and how that influences their mood and general outlook on life.

At some level, talk therapy has always been an exercise in replaying and reinterpreting each person's unique life story. Yet Mr. Adler found that in fact those former patients who scored highest on measures of well-being -- who had recovered, by standard measures -- told very similar tales about their experiences.

They described their problem, whether depression or an eating disorder, as coming on suddenly, as if out of nowhere. They characterized their difficulty as if it were an outside enemy, often giving it a name (the black dog, the walk of shame). And eventually they conquered it.

"The story is one of victorious battle: 'I ended therapy because I could overcome this on my own,'" Mr. Adler said. Those in the study who scored lower on measures of psychological well-being were more likely to see their moods and behavior problems as a part of their own character, rather than as a villain to be defeated. To them, therapy was part of a continuing adaptation, not a decisive battle.

The article goes on to describe the benefits of thinking about past events in the third person rather than in the first person:

In a 2005 study reported in the journal Psychological Science, researchers at Columbia University measured how student participants reacted to a bad memory, whether an argument or failed exam, when it was recalled in the third person. They tested levels of conscious and unconscious hostility after the recollections, using both standard questionnaires and students' essays. The investigators found that the third-person scenes were significantly less upsetting, compared with bad memories recalled in the first person.

"What our experiment showed is that this shift in perspective, having this distance from yourself, allows you to relive the experience and focus on why you're feeling upset," instead of being immersed in it, said Ethan Kross, the study's lead author. The emotional content of the memory is still felt, he said, but its sting is blunted as the brain frames its meaning, as it builds the story.

But things like eating disorders and mental illness aren't external forces and thinking about a bad memory as if it happened to a third party is not the truth. The standard model of the happy, smart, successful human being is someone who knows more, works hard, and has found, or at least is heading toward, their own personal meaning of life. But often that's not the case. Self-deceit (or otherwise willfully forgetting seemingly pertinent information) seems to be important to human growth.

Consider the recent findings by a group at Harvard about the effects of mindset on physical fitness:

The researchers studied 84 female housekeepers from seven hotels. Women in 4 hotels were told that their regular work was enough exercise to meet the requirements for a healthy, active lifestyle, whereas the women in the other three hotels were told nothing. To determine if the placebo effect plays a role in the benefits of exercise, the researchers investigated whether subjects' mind-set (in this case, their perceived levels of exercise) could inhibit or enhance the health benefits of exercise independent of any actual exercise.

Four weeks later, the researchers returned to assess any changes in the women's health. They found that the women in the informed group had lost an average of 2 pounds, lowered their blood pressure by almost 10 percent, and were significantly healthier as measured by body-fat percentage, body mass index, and waist-to-hip ratio. These changes were significantly higher than those reported in the control group and were especially remarkable given the time period of only four weeks.

Just by thinking they were exercising, these women gained extra benefit from their usual routines. The idea of thinking about oneself reminded me of Allen Iverson's training routine, which utilizes a technique called psychocybernetics:

"Let me tell you about Allen's workouts," says Terry Royster, his bodyguard from 1997 until early 2002. "All the time I have been with him, I never seen him lift a weight or stand there and shoot jumper after jumper. Instead, we'll be on our way to the game and he'll be quiet as hell. Finally, he'll say, 'You know now I usually cross my man over and take it into the lane and pull up? Well, tonight I'm gonna cross him over and then take a step back and fade away. I'm gonna kill 'em with it all night long.' And damned if he didn't do just that. See, that's his workout, when he's just sitting there, thinking. That's him working on his game."

What Iverson is doing is tricking his conscious self into thinking that he's done something that he hasn't, that he's practiced a move or shot 100 perfect free throws in a row. I think, therefore I slam. (I wonder if Iverson pictures himself in the first or third person in his visualizations.)

Carol Dweck's research looks at the difference between thinking of talent or ability as innate as opposed to something that can be developed:

At the time, the suggested cure for learned helplessness was a long string of successes. Dweck posited that the difference between the helpless response and its opposite -- the determination to master new things and surmount challenges -- lay in people's beliefs about why they had failed. People who attributed their failures to lack of ability, Dweck thought, would become discouraged even in areas where they were capable. Those who thought they simply hadn't tried hard enough, on the other hand, would be fueled by setbacks.

For some people, the facade they've created for themselves can come crashing down suddenly, as with stage fright:

He describes the sense of acute self-consciousness and loss of confidence that followed as "stage dread," a sort of "paradigm shift." He says, "It's not 'Look at me - I'm flying.' It's 'Look at me - I might fall.' It would be like playing a game of chess where you're constantly regretting the moves you've already played rather than looking at the ones you're going to play." Fry could not mobilize his defenses; unable to shore himself up, he took himself away.

In a slightly different but still related vein, Gerd Gigerenzer's research indicates that ignoring information is how smart decisions are made:

In order to make good decisions in an uncertain world, one sometimes has to ignore information. The art is knowing what one doesn't have to know.

Research done by Edward Vogel at the University of Oregon shows the capacity of a person's visual working memory "depends on your ability to filter out irrelevant information":

"Until now, it's been assumed that people with high capacity visual working memory had greater storage but actually, it's about the bouncer - a neural mechanism that controls what information gets into awareness," Vogel said.

And data from another study indicates that perhaps one of the things that the brain does best is forgetting ("motivated (voluntary) forgetting", in the words of one researcher):

The findings suggest that despite the brain's astonishing ability to archive a lifetime of memories, one of its prime functions is, paradoxically, to forget. Our sensory organs continually deluge us with information, some of it unpleasant. We wouldn't get through the day -- or through life -- if we didn't repress much of it.

Perhaps the way to true personal acheivement and happiness is through lying to yourself instead of being honest, loafing instead of practicing, and purposely forgetting information. There are plenty of self-help books on the market...where are the self-hurt books?

Great True Hoop piece on Allen Iverson. "Dec 20 2006

Great True Hoop piece on Allen Iverson. "In other words, missed in all the hand-wringing about his lackadaisical practice habits in the NBA is the possibility that so much of his work is cerebral. Unlike, say, Jordan, who was a craftsman, someone who would take hundreds of jumpshots a day, Iverson imagines the possibility and then acts it out."

Allen Iverson traded to the Denver Nuggets.Dec 19 2006

Allen Iverson traded to the Denver Nuggets.

Allen Iverson, greatest soccer player ever?Jul 07 2006

Buried in this extensive listing of the most valuable players in the NBA by Bill Simmons, is a little muse about NBA stars playing soccer, which I will reproduce here in its entirety so you don't have to go searching for it:

By the way, I've been watching the World Cup for four weeks trying to decide which NBA players could have been dominant soccer players, eventually coming to three conclusions. First, Allen Iverson would have been the greatest soccer player ever -- better than Pele, better than Ronaldo, better than everyone. I think this is indisputable, actually. Second, it's a shame that someone like Chris Andersen couldn't have been pushed toward soccer, because he would have been absolutely unstoppable soaring above the middle of the pack on corner kicks. And third, can you imagine anyone being a better goalie than Shawn Marion? It would be like having a 6-foot-9 human octopus in the net. How could anyone score on him? He'd have every inch of the goal covered. Just as a sports experiment, couldn't we have someone teach Marion the rudimentary aspects of playing goal, then throw him in a couple of MLS games? Like you would turn the channel if this happened?

Link via David, with whom I was chatting last week about Mr. Iverson's excellent chances, soccer-wise.

Second stringJun 29 2006

Not to go on and on about it like the stupid announcers on American TV, but this passage from Jeffrey Toobin's New Yorker piece (sadly not online), may explain why the American team did so poorly in the World Cup:

Every kid in the American suburbs, it seems, owns a pair of shin guards. Soccer accords nicely with baby-boomer parents' notions about sports: every kid gets to play, no one stands out too much, there's plenty of running and trophies for all. If [John Robert's] children are typical, they will play neighborhood soccer for a few years, with enthusiastic but inexperienced parent coaches, and then wander away from the game by adolescence. Great high-school athletes tend to migrate to football and basketball, where they can play in front of big crowds and perhaps qualify for college scholarships. Soccer in the suburbs serves mostly as a bridge between Barney and Nintendo; it's a pleasant diversion, not a means of developing brutes like Jan Koller, to say nothing of the magicians who stock the Brazilian team.

This dovetails nicely with what my friend David wrote during a discussion about the disappearance of the US from the World Cup:

Our best athletes go to basketball, football, and baseball, roughly in that order. Soccer gets the dregs, sadly. Don't you think Terrell Owens would be a better striker than Landon Donovan? Even a 50-year-old Darrel Green might be faster than the fastest player on the US Soccer team, and so on.

We know these guys are smart players, and they may have the same instincts that even the Brazilians and Ecuadorians do. But they're just not nearly as good. Watching Brazil decimate Japan yesterday, even briefly, it was obvious how much stronger they were than the US team.

Over IM just now, David and I were musing about Allen Iverson's possible greatness as a soccer player; so creative, quick, and fearless. I bet if some the NBA's best players grew up playing soccer the way they played basketball, the US would have a pretty great team.

The Wages of Wins sounds like Moneyball,May 22 2006

The Wages of Wins sounds like Moneyball, but for all sports, not just baseball. Gladwell has a review in this week's New Yorker ("We become dance critics, blind to Iverson's dismal shooting percentage and his excessive turnovers, blind to the reality that the Philadelphia 76ers would be better off without him."), Tyler Cowen has a quick summary, and here's the blog for the book ("Most stars play worse in the playoffs."). Also, the formula for the Win Score statistic they refer to in the book.

The evolution of Allen Iverson from misunderstoodJan 13 2006

The evolution of Allen Iverson from misunderstood troublemaker to one of the NBA's "most transcendental stars". Says Iverson, "just trying to approach it in a John Stockton-type of way, to where you don't play so much with your physical ability all the time. You have to think the game out a lot more. That's where I'm a lot better"

Tags related to Allen Iverson:
sports basketball NBA usa soccer

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