Allen Iverson is in China right now, but the question is: Will he be back here next season? (Photo: Osports)
Allen Iverson captured headlines in China yesterday after arriving in Shanghai has part of an exhibition tour that will travel around China for the next two weeks, but he has captured the imagination of media and fans after indicating he’s open to the idea of playing in the Chinese Basketball Association next season.
Iverson is currently in China for the next two weeks as part of an NBA Legends Tour that will play seven exhibition games in six cities across central and southern China. Shorty after getting on the ground from the U.S. yesterday morning, he fielded questions from Chinese reporters and when when asked if he’d consider playing in the CBA next season, he replied: “Why not?”
Iverson has been out of professional basketball since January 2011, when he left Turkish outfit Besiktas after he injured his right calf muscle.
This is not the first time Iverson has been linked with a move to the CBA: He flirted with the idea of playing in China in the summer/fall of 2010 and had several serious offers, including a reported $4 million contract from Foshan. Iverson ended up declining Foshan and all other teams, and signed a two-year deal with Bestikas shortly after in October.
At this point, there is no indication as to which teams Iverson would be open towards joining.
Though the 11-time NBA All-Star rejected Chinese overtures in 2010, things could be different this time around if he is indeed serious about playing basketball. After an inconsistent stint in Turkey, big money European offers are likely off the table which means the best spot for a large contract would be China, where he is beloved by fans and widely recognized as one of the most popular NBA players of all-time.
But maybe more importantly, Iverson has a valuable ally in his Chinese corner this time, Stephon Marbury.
Fresh off of leading the Beijing Shougang Ducks to their first ever CBA championship, Marbury has grown into a bonefied superstar in China and has been called a hero of Beijing by the city’s millions of inhabitants. Due to a CBA rule that limits both the regular season and Finals MVP award to Chinese players, popular Chinese basketball website, hoopCHINA, has lead a campaign to build Marbury a bronze statue that will commemorate his season in Beijing, a project that has garnered the support of more than 1 million people in China.
How that relates to Iverson’s potential career in China isn’t hard to guess. Marbury continues to sell his Starbury line of apparel to the Chinese market. With Iverson likely keen on the idea branding himself to China’s estimated 300+ million basketball fans, Marbury would be the ideal example for the 36 year-old to follow if he indeed ended up playing here next season.
Marbury, who will play against Iverson for the Legends Tour’s first thee games, returned to Beijing yesterday after a short trip to the United States and was immediately supportive of Iverson joining up with a Chinese team next season.
“I think [Iverson] will be rejuvenated if he played in China,” Marbury said on his Sina Weibo account (Chinese Twitter). “He would love the fans here if he played basketball here. I hope he can feel the love when he plays here in the coming games.”
Besides Iverson and Marbury, the tour includes Dennis Rodman, who also landed with Iverson in Shanghai yesterday, as well as Clyde Drexler and Shawn Kemp. The Legends team will play the first three games against Marbury and the Beijing Ducks, the first of which is tomorrow night in Cixi, Zhejiang province. They’ll then play their next three against the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons, who lost to Beijing in the semi-finals this season, before playing the Chinese U-23 Olympic National Team in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, for the finale.
The Ducks will be short of their other import player, Randolph Morris, who elected to remain in the U.S., Lee Hsueh-lin, who is back in his native Taiwan, as well as Zhai Xiaochuan and Zhu Yanxi, who are in Sanya training with the China Senior National Team.
In 14 seasons, Iverson averaged 26.7 points, 6.2 assists and 2.2 steals. His accolades include an NBA Rookie of the Year award, an NBA MVP, an NBA Finals appearance, four scoring titles and seven All-NBA Team selections. He is currently the 17th all-time leading scorer in NBA history with 24,368 points.
The Legends Tour schedule is as follows:
April 28th: Cixi (vs. Beijing Shougang)
April 30th: Wuxi (vs. Beijing Shougang)
May 3rd: Shenhen (vs. Beijing Shougang)
May 5th: Linyi (vs. Shanxi Zhongyu)
May 7th: Dongying (vs. Shanxi Zhongyu)
May 9th: Taiyuan (vs. Shanxi Zhongyu)
May 11th: Taiyuan (vs. China Olympic National Team)