By: Kento Kato
Allen Iverson, also known as the Answer, just announced his retirement somewhat recently in a sad, surreal day. It seemed like yesterday that Allen Iverson was among the league leaders in points per game and was on the Sports Center highlights everyday. At the same time, I also knew that he hadn’t been on a team for a few years now and that his name rarely came up anymore. It was a weird mix of emotions knowing that he had pretty much been retired for a few seasons now without being on a team but also feeling like he was just a perennial all-star not so long ago. And mixed emotions about Allen Iverson was something many people had when he was an active player. It seemed like there was always a “but” or “and” or “if” when talking about the six foot guard.
This was true even before he entered the NBA. He had a legal case that caught the attention of the whole nation and ever since then, the questions about Iverson have followed him as he went on to dominate the Big East at Georgetown University. There have
been all kinds of questions about his character, ego, attitude, compatibility as a teammate, but his basketball skills were never in question. Few years later, he was drafted by the 76ers. Iveson made an immediate impression on the league as well as its fans. In his rookie year he scored 50 points in a game against the Cavaliers and put a crossover on Michael Jordan that has remained one of the most iconic moments in the NBA. Iverson continued to wow fans on the court. Here was this player, who barely stood 6 feet, scoring over 7 footers. Iveron had the body of the point guard, but the scoring ability and mentality of a shooting guard. Even as a rookie, Iverson played like a man going into the paint at will, finishing among mountains and not shying away from the big moments.
When Iverson entered the league, not only was the NBA looking for the next star shooting guard, but it was also looking for an iconic figure to appeal to the fan base in the post-MJ era. Iverson grabbed the attention of opposing players and coaches on the court and held it off the court with his attitude and personality. Iverson had everything that an icon needed, the swagger, confidence, and uniqueness. And he became one of the most popular players in the NBA without the league or David Stern ever trying to market him. Yes Iverson probably had commercials and advertisements and his partnership with Reebok couldn’t have hurt him, but what really boosted Iverson’s popularity and fame off the court was his connection with the hip-hop culture.
Iverson was the first player to really bridge the gap between basketball and the hip-hop culture. Iverson, who came from a tough neighborhood and rough upbringings, showcased his many tattoos, wore vintage jerseys, fitted hats, and baggy jeans to games, and was even an active rapper himself. On the court, he introduced the shooting sleeve, wore a headband, and wore those finger bands that nobody to this day knows what they were for. Iverson somehow made all of those cool. It wasn’t Lebron or Carmelo or Kobe to start the shooting sleeve fad, it was Iverson. My friends and I taped our fingers, injured or not, because Iverson did. Those were just some of the attributes. Iverson even played the a style of basketball that was more prominent at the parks and projects with the delayed crossover that aimed to break ankles and the reverse layups while being able to take contact. You can disagree with me but you know you can’t picture Iverson at Duke or Iveron in the NBA as a spot up 3-point shooter. Iverson soon became the player that all kids imitated. From guards to centers, guys wanted to wear the chains and break ankles.
David Stern has never directly said so, but after changing the rule on dress code, it seems like Stern may not have been fond of Iverson or the hip-hop culture either. He said that players need to be dressed like they would be were they in a proper working place, and that was true for a while with everyone wearing suits. But if you look at many pregame and post game shows, you can see that players like James Harden, Lebron James, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant don’t necessarily wear things appropriate for the workplace either, but David Stern doesn’t suspend them or have a problem now. This just leads to me thinking that David used those words but he really meant that he didn’t want players dressing like they were rappers or gang members. But back to Iverson. David Stern can ignore it, or deny it, but Iverson single handedly brought the hip-hop culture and all of its fans into the NBA market and Stern, along with the NBA has benefited greatly. This is one thing you cannot question.
Another thing you cannot question was his toughness. In all my years of watching the NBA, I may have only seen one or two players who have played with as many injuries as Iverson has. Jordan did play through the flu game, and Kobe Bryant is known to have played through some nasty injuries. But Iverson played through just as many injuries while being smaller. He may have missed a practice or two, he may not have always been the best teammate, and he may have had off court troubles but when the national anthem played and the ball in the air, Iverson was on the court and played with all his heart, no matter who he was playing against and no matter what dislocated finger, or hip contusion, or sprained ankle he had to play with. I think people underestimate just how big of a heart the little man had.
He is the only player 6ft or smaller to average over 20ppg for his career with 26.7 pgg and he has done so with the aforementioned injury on often teams with no other offensive threats, at least on those early Sixers teams. If any of you remember his performance through the 2001 playoffs where he took a very mediocre Sixers team to the finals and took game 1 from the then dominant Lakers in Staples Center. He single handedly carried that team there. The second best offensive player on that team was Aaron McKie, who, yes he won the 6th man award, but was not explosive 6th men we have seen recently. That season, McKie averaged 11.6 ppg in the regular season and 10.6 ppg in the playoffs. Iveron on the other hand, averaged 31.1 ppg while averaging over 4 assists per game in the regular season and averaged 32.9ppg and 6.1 apg in the playoffs.
In the later years of his career, Iverson left on a bad note hopping between some teams and refusing to become a bench player. If any of you remember watched him in those finals years, it was evident that while Iverson had lost a step, he could still be a productive player in the NBA. But unlike how some past greats had changed their game and their attitude as they aged, Iverson’s pride, ego, and confidence wouldn’t allow him to sit from the bench and wait for his minutes.
I often look at how many rings a player has won when trying to see how good a player was or to separate two great players. But this is a case where rings, or a lack of them, do a player no justice. Of course, Iverson’s career and resume would look better with a ring, but he is a winner in my book. For a 6foot shooting guard to give 100% every game and deal with injuries while carrying some mediocre teams to deep playoff runs, a ring is not a necessity. What he did for the game makes him one of the most iconic players ever, bringing in the hip- hop culture to the game, inspiring many fans, and how can we forget the introduction of the useless yet stylish shooting sleeve. He allowed 6 footers to play shooting guard and never shied away from being truthful. Iverson is often criticized for some of his antics, and ego, but every league benefits from someone who is different, unique, and creates some news. What Iverson did on the court and for the game still outweighs some of his problems but it is a shame that the future hall of famer’s career will always have some questions attached. Here’s to remembering and honoring one of the toughest and most entertaining players to ever play the game.