New York — LeBron James and Chris Bosh headed for South Beach, while Amare Stoudemire decided to star on Broadway.
Allen Iverson? He’s headed for Turkey.
“My whole thing was being wanted, being accepted by a ballclub. That was the most important thing,” the former NBA MVP said Friday, after signing a $4 million, two-year contract with Turkish club Besiktas during a news conference at the upscale St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan.
“I had a great time playing in the NBA. Who knows if I ever will again?” Iverson said. “But I wanted to show everybody I can play at a high level, not just the NBA.”
The 11-time All-Star waited all offseason for an NBA team to come calling, though none ever did. So while the Miami Heat stocked up with star power, and the Knicks added some front-line muscle, Iverson told his manager, Gary Moore, to begin looking at other leagues.
He ultimately decided the Istanbul-based club was the best fit.
“I feel like it’s a fresh start for me, and I just thank all these guys for giving me the opportunity,” Iverson said, “a chance to get back on track with my basketball career.”
Iverson is 17th on the NBA’s career scoring list with 24,368 points, winning the MVP in 2001 when he led the Sixers to the finals. He spent 10 seasons in Philadelphia before bouncing through Denver and Detroit, ending up in Memphis last season.
He only played three games before returning for a second stint with the Sixers, where he averaged 13.9 points in 25 games. He took a leave of absence toward the end of the season to deal with some family matters, which he said Thursday have been resolved.
“If those situations weren’t better at this point in time, there’s no way I would have made this decision,” he said. “It was hard the last couple years to concentrate on basketball.”
Iverson mostly blamed himself that no NBA teams were willing to give him a shot.
One of the most instinctive scoring guards in league history, Iverson’s prolific talent was offset by numerous run-ins with coaches and team officials, including his infamous “We’re talking about practice” diatribe directed toward former Sixers coach Larry Brown. He’s also had several legal problems that landed him on probation.
“A lot of not being on an NBA roster is my fault,” Iverson said. “I made a lot of mistakes in my life that I’m not proud of, but I have to move on.”
Wearing a black New York Yankees cap and decked out in diamonds Thursday, Iverson almost seemed to be forcing a smile as he held up a Besiktas jersey along with team owner Yildirim Demiroren and executive board member Seref Yalcin. Dozens of members of the Turkish media took photographs while Turkish music pounded inside the small hotel ballroom.
Just about the only thing familiar was the No. 3 on the jersey.
Iverson will begin play with his new team the week of Nov. 8, in a home arena that seats about 4,500 fans for a club that hasn’t won the Turkish league since 1975.
The only other American on the roster is Mire Chatman, who played in college for Texas Pan-American, though Australian center A.J. Ogilvy recently finished his career at Vanderbilt. The rest of the team is made up of players from Turkey, Russia and other Eastern European nations.
“As far as I know, Allen is the first and greatest player to have a career in the NBA and come to Europe to play in Turkey,” Demiroren said through a translator. “I hope this contract will be wonderful for both sides.”
At least as long as it lasts.
Iverson said he still believes he can play in the NBA and hopes his performance in Europe will entice a franchise — any franchise — to give him another chance next season.
He also said he’d be lying if he thought 10 years ago that he’d ever be playing in Turkey.
“The NBA has been great for me, I made a ton of money, I can take care of my family for the rest of my life and the rest of their life. The NBA has been great,” he said. “I don’t even know what my role is going to be, and that’s the part that’s exciting as much as anything, having the chance to go in with a bunch of guys and help out and win some basketball games.”