DENVER -- When someone asked Carmelo Anthony on Sunday if he's still confident going into Game 4 of the Western Conference finals with a 2-1 deficit, his response reminded me of a certain All-Star who isn't here anymore.
"If we're not confident," 'Melo said, "we might as well not even dress up."
That was vintage Allen Iverson, whom I've heard say almost exactly those words hundreds of times over the last decade or so. I asked Anthony if he'd spoken with A.I. recently, given the Nuggets' meteoric rise to the conference finals without him -- and given that the point guard he was traded for has made all the difference.
"Yeah, I’ve talked to him a couple of times," Anthony said. "He just keeps saying, 'Go get it.' It kind of hurts him that he’s not here with us. That’s all he keeps saying is that he wanted to be with us. But he understands the situation."
So, too, did Kobe Bryant, who realized how significant the Iverson-for-Chauncey Billups trade was the minute he heard about it.
"When it went down, I called Carmelo and said, ‘You’re gonna like this trade,’" Bryant said. "Iverson is great. But for what this team needs, they needed a quarterback. And they have a quarterback. I knew it was going to be a problem as soon as it happened."
Bryant and Iverson came into the league together in the 1996 draft, but their careers have taken much different paths since they stole the show at the All-Star rookie game in Cleveland in '97. They were the brash new kids trying to nudge the venerable stars aside back then, and everyone wondered if Iverson with his cornrows and Kobe with his arrogance would be good or bad for the league. What a full-circle moment it would've been for Bryant and Iverson to meet again in the conference finals this year after colliding in the 2001 NBA Finals won by the Lakers. But of course, without the Iverson-for-Billups trade, the Nuggets most certainly wouldn't be here.
"That’s not what the team needed," Bryant said, when asked why things didn't work out in Denver with Iverson. "You can put together all the talent in the world. When I first came to the Lakers, we had four All-Stars. But it’s about what pieces go right with the others. And Chauncey was the piece that they needed. It just meshed extremely well."