“Imagine some of Michael Jordan’s best moves…now speed it up a little.”
During tonight’s match-up against the Wizards, the Philadelphia 76ers will honor one of the game’s most iconic figures by sending Allen Iverson’s #3 up into the rafters . While A.I. was met with his fair share of critics over everything from his perceived negative image (many saw him as one of the fore-bearers of the “thug” persona with his corn-rows and tattoos becoming popular league-wide) to his memorable rant about the importance of practice (We talkin’ about PRACTICE! Not a game!), the diminutive guard remains one of my all-time favorite athletes for a multitude of reasons.
At the top of that list is the fact that Iverson was relentlessly tough, playing through a barrage of injuries seemingly more often than not during his 15-year career (Iverson was also a highly scouted, ridiculously undersized quarterback, defensive back and kick returner while attending Bethel High School in Hampton Virginia, which also happens to be the hometown of Michael Vick). While it’s easy for naysayers to dismiss him as a flashy ball-hog, we need to remember that we’re talking about a 6 foot, 165 pound guard who was NEVER afraid to aggresively attack the basket and put his frail frame at risk against defenders often upwards of a foot taller and 100 lbs heavier than him. For a person of his stature to lead the league in scoring four times is unheard of (Iverson’s 26.7 career points per game is 7th of all time, three spots ahead of Kobe Bryant. He also averaged 6.2 assists per game; not bad for a “selfish” player). That tenacity and desire to win was evident by his play on the defensive side as well, as he led the league in steals three times.
Those same doubters would also surely discredit his 2001 MVP season when he led the Sixers to an NBA Finals appearance against the mighty Shaq & Kobe Lakers by pointing out just how weak the Eastern Conference was at that time. While I agree that the competition wasn’t exactly the dynasty Bulls of the ,mid-90s (or even, say, the Heat, Knicks or Pacers during that time period), for a barely six foot tall guard to lead THAT team to the best record in the Conference (56-26, interestingly the same regular season mark that the Lakers finished with) through the playoffs and ultimately with a berth in the Finals is nothing short of spectacular. In the 2000-2001 Season, Iverson averaged 31.1 (!) PPG while shooting a more than respectable 44% despite having to take 25 shots per game (he still managed 4.6 APG as well as a league-leading 2.5 steals per game). He had to take that many shots because the second leading scorer, at 12.4 PPG was Theo Ratliff. George Lynch and Eric Snow averaged north of 30 minutes per game that season. If you take Iverson off that roster, that team would struggle to win 20 games. I firmly believe that if he had even an above average running mate that the 6ers could have competed even against that stacked Lakers squad.
Some of my fondest NBA memories involve Iverson (crossing over Jordan as a rookie and stepping over Tyronn Lue in Game 1 of the Finals immediately come to mind. Not to mention the fact that few things get more of a sense of nostalgia out of me than those red and white Reebok “Answer” kicks). His fearless style of play, in addition to his amazing scoring ability will forever place him amongst my personal all-time favorite players. It may not have been the best era of basketball in a historic sense, but for people like me who grew up idolizing Iverson and spending countless hours trying to get his killer cross-over down, tonight will be a bittersweet moment.
Iverson crosses Jordan:
Full Version of The Answer Documentary: