On Nov. 6 last season the Memphis Grizzlies were in Los Angeles, falling to the Lakers. But what stands out in my notes from that game is just how awkward the Grizzlies locker room felt.
Media were huddled around Allen Iverson, who had scored 8 points off the bench, dominating a corner of the locker room and asking questions about how he was trying to fit in. He kept saying how he didn’t understand the controversy, even though days before he said he didn’t want to come off the bench or want to be on a rebuilding team. Even that night he said he was the best point guard on the team.
You could feel other players staring daggers at Iverson and the media. The tension in the room was thick.
Now the back story to that night has come out, via the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
So on Nov. 5, 2009, Hollins asked everyone in a Los Angeles gym to leave practice. That included visitors such as former Griz president Jerry West.
Hollins then got something off his chest.
In front of the team, Hollins demanded that Iverson conform to the team’s philosophy, understand his role and respect his teammates.
“Last year, it was boiling under the surface. It was boiling over the pot in the locker room,” said Hollins, whose Grizzlies open their 2010-11 NBA season tonight against Atlanta at FedExForum.
“It wasn’t as noticeable as far as the media, and this was even before A.I. played. When it became necessary, I confronted the situation. And players recognize when something isn’t right and nothing is being done about it. The team was waiting on me to be the leader.
“So I spoke up. Things broke loose and the team galvanized behind the decision that I made to speak up at that point. They were like, ‘OK, this is how he is, and he did it with one of the greatest players ever. We can believe.’ It just worked out that way. It’s not something I tried to do.”
That was the day that Hollins won the team. It was the day they really started on their way to a surprising 40-42 record. When the ship got righted. It was Iverson’s first steps to Turkey.
Now we’ll see how Hollins steers the ship this season, but he shouldn’t have any storms like that one.