The 2013 NBA Retirement Manifesto: A Class For The Ages

sheed kobe kidd

Since the calendar flipped over to 2013, five of the most influential basketball players of the 1990s and 2000s formally announced their retirement from the NBA.

First, it was Rasheed Wallace hanging up the laces for what we assume is the last time in April. Then, in a form of poetic justice, 1994 co-Rookies of the Year Grant Hill and Jason Kidd retired just days apart in June, entering the league together and then departing together. And in the past week, two of the most electrifying and star-crossed players of the past decade and a half — Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady — finally listened to their bodies and limped out of the league for good.

Never in my lifetime do I remember five such stars — all extremely unique in their games, personalities and careers — leaving the game at the same time. It's almost a monumental retirement class, if you will, ranging from players who climbed the summit to those who have fallen far from grace.

All five of these players have left a huge impact on the crew here at The Sports Fan Journal, so we'd be remiss if we didn't give them — these stars who entertained for more than two decades and enhanced our love for the game — their proper due.


Rasheed Wallace
Naturally, being a born and bred Philadelphian, I have a particularly meaningful affinity for two cats on this list compared to the others — though I have plenty of admiration for all five of these ballers. Rasheed Wallace, a born and bred Philadelphian himself, takes one of those spots.

We all know about the narrative of what Sheed could have been if he really wanted to, how he always seemed to make us yearn for more from his game. After all, he entered the league as an absolutely unstoppable force in the post, but then moved his offensive game farther and farther away from the basket as time wore on. Basketball came so easy to Rasheed Wallace that, at times, he seemed to be bored by it, creating new challenges for himself.

But that's not what I care about with Sheed. What I care about is where he came from, what he learned and who he ultimately became. You see, Rasheed Wallace is from North Philadelphia, an area of my city that's no joke. There, he went to Simon Gratz High School and quickly racked up the accolades and attention. My uncle, who is probably the most knowledgeable person I know in regard to Philadelphia-area high school basketball, calls Wallace the best high school player he's ever seen. I was too young to fully appreciate Rasheed Wallace in high school and never did get to see him at Gratz, but he quickly became my favorite player in college basketball shortly after stepping foot on campus at UNC.

Growing up a youngster during the Michael Jordan era, I gravitated toward North Carolina as my sort of 1A favorite college basketball team, right behind Philadelphia's own Temple University. I became an avid follower of the Tar Heels during the George Lynch years, and by the time Sheed got down to Chapel Hill, I was a huge fan — and that fandom would only grow with Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse taking the nation by storm.

While Stack got most of the highlights, it was Sheed that infatuated me. Here was a guy who could quite literally do it all, and yet he seemed to have no problem ceding the spotlight to Stackhouse. And it's because, no matter how much he may have infuriated you over the years by not becoming a dominant force like Shaq, Sheed understood the game as well as anyone. He knew that in order for UNC to shine, he had to let Stack do his thing, be a real team player.

Of course, there was always the internal battle for Sheed as well, a guy happy to blend in and be part of the team, a guy who eschewed the spotlight. He didn't want to be the star, the one who got all the attention … and yet he'd explode and hurt his team, those infamous technicals becoming his calling card as part of the Jail Blazers. He antagonized the media with his answers. He did things his way.

Yet for all the criticism Sheed got over the years for his antics, never once did you hear a teammate say a bad word about him. Quite the contrary, actually, as every player who has ever played with Rasheed not only praises the man, but says he has as good of a basketball mind as anyone. Of all things, it was Rasheed Wallace that was the missing link of those hard-nosed Detroit Pistons of the 2000s, the one who united the team, anchored their defense (with Ben Wallace) and turned the Pistons into champions. From there, even as age and a lack of care for his body caught up with him, Sheed became coveted as a veteran presence for contending teams.

Rasheed Wallace coined phrases, acted a fool and had that weird gray spot, and everyone will remember for him that. They will remember him as the kingpin of the Jail Blazers, as the guy who would rather blow up at a ref than take the winning shot. But he'll also be remembered as one of the most liked players ever by his peers, one of the most talented players to lace up a pair of sneakers, and one of the most unique individuals to grace the NBA with his presence.

In an era of decadence and look-at-me tendencies, Rasheed was the anti-superstar. He'd rather dress like a homeless person than be in a photo shoot for GQ. He'd rather blend in with a team than stand out as the superstar. He'd rather cause arguments than keep the peace. And he was always Rasheed Wallace, through and through. All he cared about was his teammates and his privacy, plain and simple, and no matter how much more we wanted from him, he gave us plenty to remember for the rest of our lives.


Grant Hill
Unlike Wallace, Grant Hill was the poster child for the NBA in his early days. Of these five players, he's easily the choir boy of the bunch, born to a privileged family — his dad was NFL running back Calvin Hill — and seemingly always did the right thing. He was a McDonald's All-American, went to Duke and won two National Championships as Christian Laettner's sidekick — including being an integral part in the iconic play at the old Spectrum in Philadelphia against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament — and entered the league as a star immediately.

At first, I wasn't a huge Grant Hill fan. At first. He was a Dukie, and while I didn't really relate to the Uncle Tom business, I had a sense of hatred the way Jalen Rose did for Hill and Duke (oddly enough, I hated Jalen Rose his entire career and now love him in retirement). But once Hill put on a Pistons uniform, I was hooked. I wanted his Filas. I voted for him for the All-Star game as a rookie, the one in which he became the first rookie ever to lead in All-Star voting. I couldn't get enough Hill, who won co-Rookie of the Year with Jason Kidd.

Furthermore, Hill became the most marketable star in the NBA as Michael Jordan went on his dalliance with baseball. He was in Sprite commercials, sneaker commercials, McDonald's commercials. He was playing piano and displaying the All-American exterior, the perfect role model and the near-perfect basketball player. Grant Hill had the world by the balls, and he was quickly becoming the face of the NBA.

Then the ankle troubles began, and Grant Hill soon became forgotten. He signed a huge deal in Orlando to join forces with fellow free agent signee Tracy McGrady, but his ankle would not let him play. The new face of the league became an afterthought, and everyone seemed to forget all about Grant Hill, basketball player. He was simply known now as Grant Hill, damaged goods. Or Grant Hill, cautionary free agent tale.

For many people, guys on this list included, it would be too much. Hill's body simply would not let him be the player he had been, and he could have easily walked away with his millions, a smart and talented guy with his whole life ahead of him. Instead, Grant Hill rededicated himself to the game and turned into something no one ever really thought he'd be: a defensive specialist. He rejuvenated his career in Phoenix with its legendary training staff and just kept on playing and playing. No, he was never again close to the Grant Hill that took the NBA by storm, the one who won over Detroit and then the world, becoming the most popular rookie this side of LeBron James.

What Grant Hill did become was a model for perseverance, the type of role model you really can have your kids look up to. No one in the NBA's recent memory has handled the betrayal of his body better than Hill, who never complained, never asked what if, never deluded himself into thinking he could be that Grant Hill again. He accepted his fate, and then worked his ass off to become the best role player any team could possibly have.

Seeing the way his journey unfolded, it's hard to have anything but the utmost respect for Grant Hill, no matter if you bleed for the Tar Heels or call Durham home.


Jason Kidd
You want to know what the strangest thing to me about Jason Kidd's career is? It's not the fact that he went from Ason Kidd, because he has no J, to a specialist three-point shooter as age took away his athleticism and prevented one of the game's greatest point guards ever from playing point guard anymore. It's not the fact that he took the New Jersey Nets to the NBA Finals or that he bounced around the league so often despite his greatness. It's not even the fact that seemingly seconds after he announced his retirement, he was hired by the Brooklyn Nets to be their head coach.

What's strange to me is that Kidd has gone through as much turmoil in his career as any of these guys yet never really seems to be defined by it like his peers. Sheed will always be associated with an explosive temper and the Jail Blazers moniker. Iverson will always be known for "practice" and "40 Bars" and all his off-court problems. Hell, even Tracy McGrady, who has never really been in trouble off the court, will have his psyche be dissected every time he's brought up.

Yet Jason Kidd — the same Jason Kidd who was allegedly involved in a love triangle with Toni Braxton and Jim Jackson in Dallas, forcing the Mavericks to blow up the band and ship Kidd to Phoenix; the same Jason Kidd who went through an ugly divorce with accusations of beating his wife; the same Jason Kidd who has been arrested for drunk driving — none of that really seems to be brought up as anything but bullet points after discussing his on-court career. It really fascinates me.

Of course, none of his transgressions take away what he did on the court. Coming out of Cal, he won Rookie of the Year along with Hill and then quickly became the best point guard in the league. He put Dallas on the right path, took his blond hair to Phoenix to make the Suns something else, turned the Nets franchise around and ultimately won a title back in Dallas before fading away in New York. He was, by far, the best passer and rebounder ever at his position and also an absolutely tremendous defensive star in his youth. He got triple-doubles by accident, and when he lost a few steps and couldn't be the best point guard in an ever-faster league anymore, he developed a jumper and extended his career.

With all due respect to Gary Payton and even Chris Paul right now, Jason Kidd is the epitome of a point guard in my lifetime. Well, him and John Stockton. The man was an absolute general on the floor, even if he couldn't quite command his life off of it, and there was nothing quite like watching Jason Kidd toy with his opponents while making lesser squads some of the most entertaining — and best — in the NBA.


Allen Iverson
Born in 1984, I was a baby of the '80s and child of the '90s. Those were not glory days for the Philadelphia 76ers. By the time I understood the basics of the sport, Dr. J and Moses Malone were long gone, and Charles Barkley was dominating for a terrible franchise and demanding a trade. When I finally made it to my first Sixers game in person, the Clarence Weatherspoon-led Sixers got routed by the David Robinson-led San Antonio Spurs. The Sixers were a laughingstock, to the point where my favorite god damn players of my youth were Hersey Hawkins and Dana Barros.

But then, in 1996, the Sixers won the lottery and selected a 6-foot guard from Georgetown named Allen Iverson, and I was hooked. Now don't get me wrong, I loved the NBA before then, struggling through Sixers games and watching Michael Jordan do unthinkable things in the postseason. But I didn't really, really love the game to the point where I couldn't miss a game until Allen Iverson came to town.

Yes, he was brash. Yes, he was a chucker. Yes, he wasn't always the best teammate or the most coachable guy. But he was, by miles, the most exciting player the city had seen since Sir Charles took his talents to Arizona.

I could write a book about everything Allen Iverson was to me and to Philadelphia, so I won't go through the whole timeline. We all know about "practice," about his cross-over of Jordan as rookie, about his ill-fated rap career, about his near trade that was nixed by Matt Geiger's no-trade clause, about his ridiculous run to the NBA Finals, earning MVP in the process during the 2000-01 season, about his scoring titles, his falling-out in Philadelphia, his time in Denver and his rapid fall from grace. We all know about his troubles off the court, when he was a youth, when he was dominating the league, and now as a seemingly broken man in retirement. We know how he was defiant to the end, ever confident that he could be the Allen Iverson that amazed the masses and became, quite literally, a cultural icon.

We all know about what Allen Iverson meant to the game and to the players who are now carrying on the torch. There's no real need to talk about all those things, to be honest. His imprint on the game, on the league, on the culture is almost immeasurable.

We can recount everything he's done, so instead, I want to share something personal I wrote when Allen Iverson, my favorite player to watch wearing a Sixers uniform, returned to his NBA home in 2009:

A lot has been said about Iverson's return to Philadelphia. How appropriate it feels, how happy everyone who doesn't hate the guy is for him to return to his professional basketball home. But to be perfectly honest with you, I don't think anyone outside of this city truly understands just how emotional this is for people like myself, people like Arkansas Fred, silver fox, The Charles, my countless other friends and the true Allen Iverson AND Philadelphia 76ers fans. To the outside world, they may look at what Iverson has accomplished in his career, at how successful he was in Philadelphia, and feel that it's the appropriate place for him to land. But I don't really think any of them can comprehend the true meaning behind this all.

In his press conference yesterday, Iverson said it perfectly: "The relationship I have with these fans is like no other, I think, in sports. I have a love for them, and they love me." That's the god honest truth. Philadelphia loves Allen Iverson. I mean really, truly loves him. No, not everyone in the city, not every 76ers fan. There are plenty of people who never have and never will "love" Allen Iverson. But for those of us in this city who did, who do, it's a love like no other between an athlete and a city. None. That's not to say Philadelphia loves Allen Iverson any more than Chicago loves Michael Jordan, Cleveland loves LeBron James [pre-Decision!] or anyone else for that matter. It is to say that Philadelphia loves Allen Iverson in a way that no other city has ever loved an athlete. It's a different kind of love. An unusual love. A unique love.

Think about it. Can you honestly name one other athlete — on the same level athletically, culturally and controversially — that has brought so many problems on himself yet has had the majority of his fanbase stand behind him the entire way? I know Allen Iverson was far from a perfect player, far from a perfect man, but dammit, I loved Allen Iverson like family. I love Allen Iverson like family. He had his faults and his troubles, many of which were his own doing, but he also had a passion, a grit, a true sense of who he was and who he was going to be. Allen Iverson wasn't perfect. He was great, exciting, incredible, but far from perfect. Yet we stood behind him, stand behind him because he was always real, always passionate, always embodied the true essence of Philadelphia. We live in a flawed, troubled city, many of the problems brought upon ourselves. There are more murders than one can wrap their head around, an embarrassing amount of segregation among the neighborhoods, but somehow, it's a city that understands itself, knows its flaws but won't hesitate to stand up for its own, defend its own no matter what. Stays true to itself. Just like Allen Iverson. He connected on that level. He showed the passion every time he took the court, the same passion this city prides itself on. He showed his toughness every time he got knocked to the floor by a 7-foot behemoth and bounced right back up, the same toughness that defines this city. He played hurt, never backing down from a fight, in true Philadelphia fashion. And he was real, showing himself warts and all, just like the City of Brotherly Love.

He embodied us, loved us, and we loved him back. We still do. The fact that he will once again take the court as a Philadelphia 76er means more than any potential high draft pick, more than making the playoffs, more than just about anything beyond winning a championship, which this franchise is far from doing. Philadelphia and Allen Iverson were a match made in heaven. Or maybe hell. But a perfect match nonetheless. Few things in sports have ever made me more happy, made me love the game more than watching Allen Iverson give every ounce of his being once that ball was tossed in the air. Because while he's doesn't really know me and I don't really know him, somehow, it feels like we've known each other our whole lives. Through his actions on and off the court, good and bad, he was one of us. He was ours, and we were his. In a way, we always have been, even before he got here and after he left, and certainly now more than ever since he's returned. Say what you want about Allen Iverson the player, Allen Iverson the man. Both the criticism and the love are warranted. But no matter what, no matter how this next (maybe final?) chapter ends, we will always love Allen Iverson, always defend Allen Iverson. Because he is one of our own, the good and the bad. Allen Iverson belongs to Philadelphia, belongs in Philadelphia.

Welcome home, A.I. We've missed you, even though you really never left our hearts.

That love, no matter how much older and wiser I get, no matter how much I realize that Iverson was really his own worst enemy, that love will never fade. When he was traded to Denver and I noticed the Nuggets weren't going to be playing in Philadelphia anytime soon, I went to see him play against the Nets in New Jersey. When he did finally make his return to the City of Brotherly Love, I was there to shower my appreciation on him. And when the Sixers retire his number, you better believe I'll be there to see that jersey rise to the rafters, and it will be impossible to hold back the tears.

There's a lot we can all say about Allen Iverson, good and bad. But the only thing that really matters to me is how much unbridled joy he gave me watching him play for my hometown team night in and night out.


Tracy McGrady
The biggest shame of all for Tracy McGrady is that he will forever be branded as the guy who "never made it out of the first round" until he was nothing more than a buried bench player on the San Antonio Spurs in his final go-round. McGrady's fall from stardom had a little bit of Iverson in it — rising to stardom before his skills eroded — and a little bit of his once teammate Hill — his body breaking down. But the thing about Tracy McGrady that sometimes gets overlooked is just how fucking good he was at basketball.

After playing in the shadow of his cousin Vince Carter north of the border, McGrady broke out to be his own leading man, giving Orlando Magic fans visions of Penny Hardaway 2.0. Instead, he gave them something completely different — a player whom some considered the best in the NBA. McGrady was as athletic as they come, able throw down monstrous dunks and out-leap just about everyone. But he was also a great ball-handler, excellent passer, very good shooter, tremendous shot-blocker, and, when engaged, an elite-caliber defender for stretches. The man literally had no flaw in his basketball game outside of some shoddy free throw shooting from time to time.

The man was a highlight reel in and of himself on a nightly basis, doing the unthinkable. In All-Star Games, he stood out among his peers. For a time, there was a strong debate whether or not he was better than Kobe — and it wasn't an outlandish argument.

Yet, McGrady's career always seemed to be a tragedy. His look gave off the air of a player disengaged, even as he was filling the stat sheet in astonishing fashion. His playoff failures gave critics the ammo that he was not clutch enough, did not have the makeup of a champion. His mental psyche was questioned in Houston, to the point where people genuinely thought he didn't even like basketball anymore. And the longer he went without a playoff victory, the more his body broke down and turned Tracy McGrady, All-Star, into Tracy McGrady, former All-Star, people thought he had tuned the game out.

It's always dangerous to play psychoanalyst to people you don't even know, but that never stopped anyone in regard to Tracy McGrady. And that's hilarious to me, because if you really remember Tracy McGrady in his prime, you wouldn't question a thing. He wasn't just a really good player — he was truly great. Great in the same way Allen Iverson was great and Jason Kidd was great and even the way Grant Hill was great in Detroit.

Maybe his prime wasn't as long as Kobe's or LeBron's, but in his retirement, let us never forget how great Tracy McGrady was. Playoffs be damned, T-Mac once led the league and was, perhaps, the most exciting player in the game.

In the end, it's kind of crazy to think that these five players are leaving the game at the same time. All of them ultimately will be remembered as tragic figures in their own ways. For Rasheed, it will forever be the untapped potential, the what could have been had he decided to just dominate. For Hill, it is the tragedy of a superstar being reduced to a role player due to injury, a prime cut way too short. For Kidd, it was his off-court turmoil and nomadic career. For Iverson, it was the undeniable fact that he was always his own worst enemy, a guy whose life eventually spiraled out of control when his career fizzled. And for McGrady, he's the perennial underachiever — at least team-wise — and a study in the complexities of athletes. They all are, actually.

When it was all said and done, only Wallace and Kidd got their rings — or in the case of Sheed, his championship belt — whereas Hill, Iverson and McGrady will forever be ringless. Surely, that matters in the history books and the inevitable comparisons between players past and present. But really, it doesn't matter either. What matters is that all five of these players changed the game of basketball. All five of them tasted superstardom in one form or another, and all five of them left their imprints on the game.

Seeing five players of this caliber, five players who quite literally defined the NBA for nearly two decades, hang it up shows just how relentless time is. It continues to move on as we age, continues to flip eras and trends.

Here, in 2013, for those of us who got to the enjoy the experiences that were Rasheed Wallace, Grant Hill, Jason Kidd, Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady, we should be thankful that we got to witness the effects and the memories that these five unique individuals gave the NBA.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *