Coach's Corner

Coach gets his disconnection notice, courtesy of Allen Iverson.

I have a startling admission to make: writing a column in ChronicleLand isn't a lucrative endeavor; not for me and not for you, no matter how many roommates you want to cram into your East Riverside apartment. My real life job is steering your favorite local submarine sandwich shop -- think Clouds -- through the choppy, fickle waters of local commerce. One of our advertising slogans, heard ad nauseum on the radio, is gibberish about, "It's got to be real." I'll be honest with you; I never understood that one. I mean what, exactly, does "It's got to be real" mean? I asked this question. In the end I was told by exasperated advertising folk to just let it go.

Today I turn on the television and I hear Allen Iverson's posse (and a large retinue of child fans sitting outside the jail he's in) talking about Allen, "keeping it real." I guess this makes me feel a little better about our ad campaign; apparently we're further out on the cutting edge of American jargon than I'd ever dreamed. Still though, I ponder, what exactly -- I'd settle for more or less -- does it mean? Ten-year-old black kids and Allen's swarming gang of pals seem to get it. But me, I don't get it at all. Iverson's arrested on a wild domestic violence dispute, involving guns, threatening relatives, and tossing his naked wife out in the street, but his fans think this is all okay because AI's "keeping it real." Hmmm.

What's at work here, I'm thinking, is a vast disconnect between the middle class white community, i.e. the media through whose eyes we see this, and the low-income black community, a disconnect first demonstrated to white people in the aftermath of the O.J. Simpson verdict. Virtually 100% of the Anglo world thinks Simpson's a murderer who slimed away. The black community, almost as solidly, thinks something else. Something that has more grey involved than guilty or innocent.

Is the same dynamic at work here with Iverson, a ghetto kid who's made it big and done it his way, living an unapologetic lifestyle that makes a mockery of the Michael Jordan/Tiger Woods paradigm of never offending anyone? Iverson, a kid no more at 27, simply doesn't give a shit what you, me, or Larry Brown think about anything he does. So when pre-pubescent black girls say Iverson's wife can't be "disrespecting him that way," cause AI's "about keeping it real," most of us are glimpsing into a world as foreign to us as a shepherd's day in Kazakhstan.

In many ways, I guess, Iverson's an outstanding positive role model to ghetto kids. He's not a pimp. He doesn't hurt people. His kids are always in his arms when we see him, and in spite of whatever happened between him and his wife, he's a husband who comes home and stays there. He's generous with his fortune, in a good way, as opposed to a Mike Tyson way. He fully supports an extended family of over 30 people, not to mention his gang of friends from the old days.

These are good things. There doesn't seem to be any malice in Iverson's heart. He's just going to do it, whatever it is, his way. Somewhere in these six paragraphs is a smidgen of what "keeping it real," is about ...

I have a bike. It's hangs languidly -- peacefully gathering cobwebs -- from two rusty hooks in my garage. A plastic hanger bearing one of Kelly's forgotten shirts dangles from a spoke. The only semi-consistent biking I do is stationary, in a spin class where every week I fight a wretched mental battle to not quit before the 45-minute session concludes. Still, compared to my wife, I'm a hardened bike warrior. Nevertheless it was Kelly who introduced me, with her own peculiar brand of fanaticism, to the Tour de France. I, I'll admit, mocked her when she, years ago, began taping every minute. Now I beg her not to begin today's three hours of coverage until I get home. My experience in cycling, limited as it is to 45 minutes a week on a spin bike, doesn't keep me from holding a strong conviction that Tour cyclists are the best conditioned athletes in the world. And then there's Lance. Imagine; an American cyclist in a sport more Euro than soccer, known across the States, like Michael or Tiger -- in the ultimate compliment -- as just a first name. Amazing.

The Outdoor Network's amateur quality television production -- imagine Bob Costas wearing a blue denim work shirt with an NBC patch sewn on the pocket -- and the continental, unselfconscious de-slicked commentary of Englishman Phil Liggett and South African gold mine owner and color commentator Paul Sherwin have become part of the July landscape for me, as welcome in my living room as Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith in May. Phil and Paul have become a comfortable and unexpected addition to a dull month of sports.

But this year the Tour terrifies me, a sad commentary on the physiological damage, for me anyway, of this past September. "Where's the security?!" I silently scream, as mobs of anybodys surge across narrow country roads, literally touching the riders -- the U.S. riders! -- for the entire 2000-mile length of the race. Horrible things, unthinkable only a year ago, are too close to the surface. Sad. But it seems very real.

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