EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- General Douglas MacArthur said "old soldiers never die; they just fade away."
MacArthur also said, "I shall return."
On Wednesday, after a dispiriting 111-98 loss to the Nets in which he played only 17 minutes and 20 seconds and scored four points, Allen Iverson said won't do the latter if he feels his skills, his health and his playing time are doing the former.
Iverson, a free agent after this season and one of the NBA's grittier warriors now in his 13th season, said he'd be willing to hang 'em up if he couldn't find the right situation for 2009-10.
"I won't do this again, in my career," Iverson said of his role as a role player with the Pistons. "I'll retire before I do this again. I would leave the game before I do this. I can't be effective like I know I can playing this way.
"It's just that I'm not used to it. Just not something I've had to do. Like I said, it's hard for me mentally and physically."
Iverson, who came to the Pistons in a Nov. 3 trade for Chauncey Billups, missed 16 games because of a back injury, has also been limited by a injury to his right shin, which he injured in his first scrimmage after returning from his back injury. The physical maladies are weighing on Iverson.
"I'm a competitor. I love to play," Iverson said. "There's nothing more that I like to do than play basketball. I love to play. I don't think I'm any good at playing basketball if I'm not happy. I don't think too many people would be.
"I'd rather be playing basketball and be happy at the same time. Basketball has always made me happy, it's always been a safe haven for me. It's always made me happy."
He did say he would be satisfied with his career -- as is -- if he did choose to retire.
"I'm with happy with my career and the things I've done in my career," Iverson said. "I'm blessed, I feel blessed to accomplish the things I have accomplished in my career and do the things I've done. I would feel fine if I had to do [retire]."
But he wouldn't like it if he felt he had to make that choice.
"It's not something I want to do," Iverson said, "because I love playing the game so much and I want to be out there on the basketball court, if that's something I need to do, then so be it.
"At this point in my career, I just want to be somewhere where I can be happy. That's the most important thing to me. I don’t want to not want to go to work. When you're doing what you love to do, you're supposed to love doing it.
"And once I get to that point when I don't love it anymore, I won't do it."
On Wednesday, it sounded as if he were close.
"No, I'm not happy at all. I would be lying if I said I was," Iverson said. "But I'm trying to do everything I can to be happy other than basketball. This is just one phase of my life not my whole life.
"Basketball is not my whole life. I have other part of my life, other people in my life that I'm surrounded with that make me happy. This is just a stepping stone in my life."
About halfway through the fourth quarter of the game, a friend IMed me about Iverson.
"Have you even noticed AI playing tonight?"
Noticed, yes ... especially when a former NBA MVP and nine-time All-Star gets a little more than a quarter-hour of playing time, his lowest total of the season.
But, what he meant was "impact." A.I. once was a guy teams planned for, schemed for, accounted for at all times. He could change the course of a game as quickly as he could crossover helpless defenders.
But with 33 years and 33,000 falls, bumps and bruises on his slight frame since he entered the NBA in 1996, A.I. is not that guy any longer, especially if he's not on the floor.
And with his contract expiring at the end of this season, Iverson's importance to his current team and any potential future team hasn't been lower.
Maybe that's why after the game, Iverson sat on his chair in the visiting locker room at Izod Center with a faraway look in his eyes, looking at nothing in particular.
Or maybe he was just seeing his basketball life flash before his eyes.
Most the Iverson quotes above came in the second half of questions Iverson answered. In the first half, Iverson started out tersely, then gradually opened up.
Reporter: Can you see a way to get this thing going?
Iverson: Do I see a way? My way probably don't matter.
Reporter: Do you get the sense that time's running out. There are only seven games left and the other teams are playing well?
Iverson: I definitely think that way. It seems as if we're not getting any better. And teams are elevating their games at the right time.
Reporter: How surprised are you that this team after you came here is .500 and is fighting for a playoff berth?
Iverson: Definitely surprised.
Reporter: What do you think has caused this to happen?
Iverson: I'm not getting into that. I can't win that battle.
Reporter: Have all the changes in this team made it difficult to establish the continuity you need to be a really good team...
Iverson: No, we've had a lot of time to bring things together. We had a lot of time, that's nowhere near any kind of excuse we can use."
Reporter: How much is the calf limiting you and how much you can do out on the court?
Iverson: It's my shin. I don't make excuses like that. If I'm out on the basketball court and playing, then that's enough for me. It's just tough. I'm in a predicament, a position that I've never been in in my entire life, especially in the NBA. It's hard. It's been harder for me, physically and mentally. When you have a back injury like I had, and sit out the whole first quarter and play a little bit in the second. You sit out for the last three to five minutes of the second quarter and then the whole halftime and another quarter after that. It's just tough to get going. I said the other day, I take my hat off to guys who come off the bench to get it done the way they do. It's just tough for me. I'm struggling with physically and mentally.
Reporter: You made a comment the other day about how this is a temporary situation. What did you mean by that?
Iverson: I won't do this again, in my career. I'll retire before I do this again. I would leave the game before I do this. I can't be effective like I know I can playing this way. It's just that I'm not used to it. Just not something I've had to do. Like I said, it's hard for me mentally and physically.
Reporter: So, on a positive note, what can you say about guys coming off the bench?
Iverson: Like I said. I take my hat off to the guys that can do it. And some guys get used to it. They've done it before. Like I said, I've been playing basketball since I was eight-years-old, and I never had to do it. At 33-years-old, to have to adjust to something like that it's kind of tough. That's something I'm dealing with as far as my rhythm, my timing and like I said, the mental part of that.
Reporter: Would it be 100 percent physically? You don't want to make any excuses, but that's limiting you?
Iverson: I'm not going to make any excuse as far as my health. If I can go out there and get on a basketball court, I should be able to get it done. And I'm not, that's nobody's fault but mine. I point the responsibility at me. The situation I'm put in and I have to overcome the adversity of doing what I have to do. I'm a professional. And I have to find a way to get it done, somehow, someway. Whatever it takes. Anybody that knows me, my teammates, my fans, the people that watch me play, know that I'm not 100 percent. It makes it a little bit harder to do it.
Reporter: Your shin, when did you hurt it?
Iverson: The first day I came back, the first day I scrimmaged. Arnie [Kander, the Pistons strength and conditioning coach] was saying it was because not playing that long and putting that much pressure on it. The next day, it seemed as if everything was hurting except my back. It's just not playing for a while."