Allen Iverson retired years ago but in China, his popularity and reverence remains almost at the same level as Michael Jordan and Yao Ming. The promise of an Iverson appearance in the country brings hundreds of people to the airport and thousands to arenas. He is a license to print money and everyone from the man himself to the plethora of agents and concert promoters in China know this. The trouble is that when you dangle an Iverson appearance to a Chinese audience and then don’t come up with the goods, things can get very messy in a very short amount of time.
Last week in Harbin, the biggest city in Heilongjiang province, played host to an exhibition game between a local team and one that was supposed to be headed by Iverson. This was enough to ensure a massive sale of tickets for the event and presumably even sold out as these things are wont to do when ‘A.I.’ appears somewhere on the advertisement. But the problem was that whilst Iverson did indeed appear on the court and waved to the fans; critically, he did not play a single minute of the game itself– something that the thousands of fans in attendance were expecting. Those same people were understandably pissed– as were sponsors and other people connected with the promotion of the event. The sight of fans clad in Iverson jerseys sobbing was also not a hot look for anyone concerned. Moreover, if Chinese media is to be believed, the police force of at least one province are now investigating the promotion for suspected fraud.
With various city arenas starting to look over the contract they had signed with the promotion company known as ‘Iverson China’, things could now also finish up in court. As for Iverson and the company itself, the back-and-fourth has been predictable and lengthy; basically the American’s people have made it clear they had never signed anything saying he would play whilst the promoters insist there was a clause in the deal saying that Iverson would play for ‘at least ten minutes’. The suggestion has since been made in the press that the promoters may have used a ‘yin-yang’ contract (basically two contracts with subtle but distinctly different wording) to put the events together with each city and then oblige/shame Iverson into playing. It has also been alleged in some stories that Iverson was deliberately delayed from flying out at Harbin and forced to take a later flight. Its unclear exactly how much of this is accurate but the general gist is that someone tried to pull a fast one over both Iverson and a number of Chinese cities, somehow presuming they could get away with it.
What also makes this situation fascinating is that it lays wide open the business behind NBA players making appearances in China. Along with Iverson, Tracy McGrady is also hugely popular in China and has been known to make sporadic playing visits during the summertime, as are the AND 1 mixtape team. In the reporting following the Iverson situation, it emerged that some American players can expect to be paid $30,000 if they appear simply as a coach or $120,000 to play (which most current NBA players would presumably avoid due to the risk of injury in an unofficial scrimmage game).
Amid the kerfuffle, the Sixers’ legend has remained in China and continues to tour around the country if the twitter feeds of Iverson’s camp are to be believed. Meanwhile ‘Iverson China’ could be in very real trouble given that they attempted to strong arm a popular athlete in China and lie to several city governments.