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Iverson deserves to be rewarded for his loyalty

Sixers guard says playing for national team an \'honor,\' scores 51 in 111-108 loss to Atlanta

Iverson deserves to be rewarded for his loyalty

Last week, USA Basketball general manager Jerry Colangelo told the Philadelphia Daily News that 76ers guard Allen Iverson was on a preliminary list of players being considered to try out for the national team that will compete in the 2006 FIBA World Championships in Japan.

Colangelo said he wanted to meet with the star guard when the 76ers play in Phoenix on January 4.

I'll take that a step further. In fact, I'll take it all the way to the limit.

Colangelo shouldn't just talk with Iverson, who has said he "would love to play." Colangelo should issue Iverson the first official invitation to try out for this squad.

It's not because Iverson leads the NBA in scoring and is having the best all-around season of his career. It's not because he is still one of the world's most popular basketball players. 0It's more basic than that.

In the wake of disappointing showings in the 2002 World Championships and 2004 Olympics, USA Basketball said it wanted to find a new way to select its team.

Paramount was finding players completely committed to representing the United States in all endeavors, up to and through the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, which would include another Tournament of the Americas qualifier in 2007 if the USA doesn't win the World Championship.

During the past three years, no player has displayed more commitment and loyalty to USA Basketball than Allen Iverson.

From his playing in the 2003 Tournament of the Americas to get the USA qualified for the 2004 Olympics, to his being one of only three NBA players honoring their original commitment to go to Athens, to his now saying he would "love" to go again despite the savage criticism he and his teammates took for winning only Olympic bronze in Greece, nobody has exhibited the ideals USA Basketball said it is seeking better than Iverson.

Unlike 2004 Olympic coach Larry Brown, Iverson didn't whine when players such as Jermaine O'Neal, Jason Kidd, and Ray Allen bailed out on their commitments to Athens.

Iverson simply accepted his teammates who were thrown together at the last minute and said the USA could still win gold.

During the Olympics, when guys such as Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Amare Stoudamire griped about Brown's odd game plans and bizarre substitution patterns, Iverson preached faith in the coach and the program.

After the USA suffered that devastating semifinal loss to Argentina, Iverson didn't hide in the locker room like some others.

He faced the media, congratulated the Argentines, then said he would give his all against Lithuania for the bronze.

"If you don't get it done the way you expected to, I think it's important to get it done the best way you can," he said at the time. "Now that means winning the bronze medal."

And after the final Olympic game was played, Iverson didn't do like San Antonio Spurs center Tim Duncan and criticize FIBA and say he was "95 percent" sure his international playing days were over.

Iverson, amid all the bashing the team took in Athens and at home, said, "Guys have to understand that, first and foremost, it's an honor to be selected for this team. This is something you should cherish for the rest of your life.

"You're supposed to approach this as something special. Any person selected to a team like this, there should be no question in your mind. You get a chance to represent your country, and what's better than that?"

Even today, Iverson demonstrates that he understands things as USA Basketball wants its players to understand.

He said he would "love to play," no if, ands or buts. On Wednesday, James, citing frustration with his Athens experience, said he would have to get to know Colangelo and 2008 Olympic coach Mike Krzyzewski over the next few weeks before getting a better feeling about whether he wanted to rejoin USA Basketball.

"I didn't like the circumstances in the Olympics," James said. "I didn't like what happened, but if I think it's going to be better, I would make a three-year commitment."

LeBron can stay home, as can Duncan, Anthony, Allen, O'Neal and any other USA star needing any assurance other than the honor of representing our country.

I want guys on Team USA who think like Iverson.

Colangelo should, too, and the best way to show that is to extend the first official invitation to Iverson.

Meanwhile, at Atlanta on Friday, Iverson scored 53 points, the fifth-highest total of his career, but Joe Johnson had 24 to lead the Atlanta Hawks over Philadelphia 111-108. Zaza Pachulia added 23 points, including the go-ahead free throws, and Al Harrington scored 22 for Atlanta, which won for the fifth time in six games.

Iverson, who entered with a league-best 33.5 scoring average, had 21 points and six rebounds in the first half. He shot 17-of-31 and hit 19 of 21 free throws, the last coming on a three-point play that cut the Atlanta lead to 101-100 with 5:20 remaining.

In other NBA action: LA Clippers 97, Charlotte 88; LA Lakers 104, Orlando 88; Portland 91, Minnesota 83; Memphis 95, Chicago 77; Detroit 97, Golden State 85; New York 98, Utah 90; New Jersey 95, Miami 88; Cleveland 94, Indiana 89; San Antonio 95, Toronto 90; Milwaukee 101, New Orleans 94; Washington 112, Phoenix 111; Denver 108, Houston 86; Dallas 101, Seattle 98.