“I wanted to bring back that reality, nobody can ever be confused into thinking that I’m Mike Fu**ing Tyson and I’m the heavyweight champion. I’m a little dude and that’s why it’s so raw to watch me just battle lions, cause I’m a little skinny dude battling guys three times my size.” – Tupac Shakur.
Sometimes moments, people and events pass without causing a ripple, and we just move forward without giving a glance or a second thought. Allen Iverson’s arrival into the NBA was louder than a bomb, capturing the hearts and minds of an entire generation, while simultaneously making baby boomers recoil. Allen Iverson was different, he meant something, he was polarizing, and depending on your age, demographic, race and culture, that meaning was different. Still firmly entrenched in the Michael Jordan era where NBA stars wore big, bright smiles in order to sell shoes, Allen Iverson gave us a glimpse of what was on the horizon. He was truly the superstar that we were never supposed to have, a rose that truly shattered the concrete, that guy we were only supposed to hear stories about how nice he was back in the day, but never made it. We were used to seeing Jordan’s elegant, graceful assassin type demeanor, but the fury in Allen Iverson’s eyes was different. If you weren’t from the “environment” you had never seen that look before, that look of hunger, that look of rage, that look of desperation that was deeper than merely trying to win a game or be a great basketball player. His nickname was the perfect dichotomy, was he the Answer or the Question?
Allen Iverson was EVERYTHING from the late 90’s into the mid-2000’s. He was a 5-10 juggernaut who wielded a weapon in battle that terrified his adversary’s, the crossover. As an opponent, not only did u have to prepare to stop a 30 point per game scorer, but you also had to play 48 minutes in constant fear of getting your ankles broken. There was always a buzz about Tim Hardaway’s “killer crossover”, but Allen Iverson thrust the crossover into the mainstream. In fact the And-1 mixtape and tour owe their entire existence to Mr. Iverson. When AI crossed Michael Jordan over during his rookie year, he truly brought the “suburbs to the hood”. This was a watershed moment for the NBA, not only did Iverson cross over the leagues shining star, but he paused, then rocked him again and made the subsequent jumper. It was only a moment, but for that moment he had Jordan in the palm of his hand. Iverson was the new insurgent, every kid wanted his jersey, wanted to buy his sneakers, and work on their crossover instead of their jumpshot.
Allen Iverson was a constant contradiction for many, even his fans. We wished he would care more about practice, the team building process, making others around him better, take better shots and be more of a point guard. But, you couldn’t deny that he BROUGHT it every single night, was worth the price of admission, and there was always a chance he might explode for fifty and he would never cheat his audience with a lack of effort. There was a constant discussion as to whether the 76ers organization surrounded him with enough talent in order to win a championship? He ran off Jerry Stackhouse and Tim Thomas, and even though he had a good off the court relationship with Larry Hughes, they clashed on the court and Hughes later flourished as a pro playing with the Washington Wizards. It became a huge problem with Iverson entering his prime, could the Sixers surround him with enough talent to be a championship caliber team, did the way he played the game and went about his business off the court even allow for that? In 2001 everything seemed to click, the 76ers had finally found the right group of players to balance a team where their 5-10 shooting guard took almost 26 shots per game. A rugged group, who were selfless, defended hard, rebounded, could make just enough open shots to keep the defense honest, and most importantly protect their fly-weight superstar scorer. That year Iverson won his first and only MVP award, dragged his team through the Eastern Conference, and to the NBA finals. Finally the league’s most “dangerous” superstar would be able to display his array of talents on the NBA’s largest stage, ultimately falling short, but not before he led his band of heavy underdogs to a game one win against the Los Angeles Lakers, who hadn’t yet tasted defeat in the playoffs. Iverson was dribbling near the sideline with time running out in overtime, crossed over Tyrone Lue, made the dagger-jumper, then stomped over Lue’s body as he was laid out on the floor. Game Over.
Iverson followed his MVP season up with yet another scoring title in 2002, but his team fell short of the finals, and started moving in the wrong direction. Iverson’s frail frame started to give way to little nagging injuries and attrition, and the coach who many deem responsible for corralling the troubled superstar, Larry Brown, moved on from the Philadelphia 76ers. How did Iverson respond? A three stretch where he averaged 31 PPG, 4 RPG and 7 APG. He kept going to war every single night, even though everything was falling apart around him, he never cheated the fans. He played with a F**k you edge only matched by Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett, Guys twice his size. He kept on going, putting his body on the line every single night, until the Sixers finally decided to trade him away to the Denver Nuggets, where he had a few good years until his career started to go off track.
Allen Iverson is one of the greatest players to ever grace the hardwood and the second best player under six feet tall in NBA history. People will go through his statistics and try to poke holes in his résumé. They will say he was selfish, shot to much, shot a low percentage, didn’t play his natural position of point guard because he just wanted to shoot, wasn’t a good citizen on and off the court, and wasn’t a winner. The only thing I will say is that I feel like he didn’t work on his game and body enough, which didn’t allow him to reach his full potential and is the biggest reason why he found himself out of the league a lot earlier than he should have been. The man competed, every night, and that’s a lot more then you can say for a lot of his contemporaries (looking right at you T-Mac, Vince, Starbury and Glen Robinson). It seems that a lot of people in the media have been throwing a lot of dirt on his name lately, although some of it has been deserved. But, I chose to remember the basketball player that I saw give Vince Carter 50 TWICE in the same series. The guy that could stay out all night partying, play a 1:30 PM game in New Jersey, and still drop 45. Granted he could have been even greater than he was, let’s remember the 5-10 165 pound feather-weight who carried him-self like the heavy-weight champion of the world. The guy we all wanted to dress like, play like, wear our hair like and made us want to get our crossover just right. Thank you A.I.