The Ultimate Allen Iverson Tribute
How can one describe all that is Allen Iverson?
He was a magnificent paradox: the little-man NBA superstar. Perhaps no player in NBA history packed so much talent into so small a frame. He was such a transcendent athlete (All-State as a quarterback in Virginia) that he could have succeeded in virtually any sport.
But the 6'0" Iverson chose to ply his trade on the basketball court, where height is supposed to reign supreme. Through skill and sheer force of will, he made himself into an 11-time All-Star who averaged 26.7 points, 6.2 assists and 2.2 steals a game in his 13-year career, the first 10 of which came as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Sixers are going to retire Iverson's jersey in a halftime ceremony during Saturday's game against the Washington Wizards. He will be joining quite a distinguished group of Philadelphia NBA legends, per USA Today's Jason Wolf:
Iverson will become the eighth player in Sixers franchise history to have his number retired, joining Charles Barkley, Maurice Cheeks, Wilt Chamberlain, Billy Cunningham, Julius Erving, Hal Greer and Bobby Jones. NBA commissioner Adam Silver, Sixers owner Josh Harris and Iverson are expected to address the sold out crowd during the ceremony. Other special guests will include Erving, Moses Malone, Dikembe Mutombo and Theo Ratliff, along with nine-time All-Star Gary Payton and former Sixers president Pat Croce.
To celebrate the man known as "The Answer", let's take a look back at his amazing career.
*All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.
Where to start?
Perhaps we should go with Iverson's best season: the 2000-01 campaign. He averaged 31.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.5 steals per game en route to winning the league MVP award. Officially listed at 6'0"—emphasis on "officially"—Iverson remains the shortest MVP in league history.
The second-shortest MVP was Boston Celtics legend Bob Cousy, who won the award all the way back in 1957!
Some more of Iverson's career highlights include:
- 11-time All-Star
- 1996-97 NBA Rookie of the Year
- two-time All-Star Game MVP (2001, 2005)
- seven-time All-NBA (first team three times, second team three times, third team once)
- four-time scoring champ
- seven-time league leader in minutes per game
- two-time league leader in steals
Any way you slice it, that is a Hall of Fame resume.
Regular Season Highlight: 60 Points vs. the Orlando Magic
In many ways, the 2004-05 season marked the end of Iverson's glory days in Philadelphia. Though he would play one more full season before being traded to Denver, 2004-05 was the team's last playoff season of the Iverson era.
But the soon-to-be-30-year-old Iverson still had some magic left, and he exploded for a career-high 60 on Feb. 12, against the Orlando Magic.
His line on the night was vintage A.I.: 60 points on 17-of-36 shooting (2-of-5 from beyond the arc), 24-of-27 from the free-throw line, four rebounds, six assists and five steals. He also set career highs in both free throws and free throw attempts.
There was only one man keeping Iverson from the franchise record on that evening...naturally, that man was the legendary Wilt Chamberlain, who scored 68, 65 and 62 points as a Sixer.
Between the two of them, Iverson (5) and Chamberlain (4) have the top nine scoring games in team history.
Perhaps the most incredible feat of Iverson's career is the fact that three of the top eight scoring games of his career came in the postseason. He was at his best when his team needed him the most.
His career high in the playoffs was 55 points in Game 1 of the 2003 first round against the New Orleans Hornets.
But A.I. is best remembered for his incredible run through the 2001 postseason. He matched up with the Toronto Raptors' Vince Carter in an epic seven-game series in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Carter scored 50 points in Game 3, but Iverson matched him with 54 points in Game 2 and 52 points in Game 5 as the Sixers went on the take the series.
Playoff Highlight: Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals
The 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers may have been the greatest playoff team of all time. They steamrolled through the Western Conference, winning all 11 games in their first three series of the postseason. They were poised to do likewise to the underdog Sixers in the 2001 Finals.
And then they ran into Allen Iverson.
Game 1 of the 2001 Finals represented the culmination of Iverson's career. Facing an historically great team on their home floor, he did not give an inch.
A.I. scored 48 points despite being capably guarded by Tyronn Lue throughout the last few periods. In overtime, he put the Sixers ahead for good with seven straight points, He also provided one of the most memorable images in NBA history as he stepped over Lue after nailing a jumper.
The Lakers would go on to win the next four games, while Iverson would never again reach the Finals. But that Game 1 instantly transformed him into a Philly sports legend.
Signature Move: The Crossover
Kareem had the skyhook. Stockton and Malone had the pick-and-roll. Iverson had the crossover.
While the move has become a staple of NBA guards, nobody could ever cross a defender quite as viciously as "The Answer", who did for the broken ankle what New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera did for the broken bat.
By far the most famous victim of Iverson's crossover was the legendary Michael Jordan, who was nearly deked out of his shoes trying to guard the rookie in 1997.
Reminiscing on the move years later, Iverson quipped: "But the craziest thing about it is I hit him with my best move and he still almost blocked it."
Signature Quote: "We're Talking About Practice!"
As hard as he played on the court, Iverson could never quite shake accusations that he didn't put in enough time honing his craft at practice.
Of course, A.I. being A.I., he refused to back down from the allegations. Instead, he blessed the world with this notorious press conference, in which he utters the word "practice" 20 times.
Perhaps no sports figure in the modern era is as associated with one word as Iverson is with "practice." Well, maybe former Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Mora and "playoffs?"
Iverson vs. the Dress Code
Iverson had an unparalleled impact on NBA style and culture during his playing career. He wasn't the first player to embrace hip-hop style, but he became the emblem of a new generation of players, per B/R's Jameel Sawyer:
Iverson’s influence on the league reached far beyond the basketball court. Iverson not only brought a new approach to how basketball was played, but he also introduced a new element of urban style off the court, which would later be adapted by many other NBA players throughout the 2000s.
Even as crotchety old fans slandered him as a thug, A.I. refused to compromise. He was finally forced to change his dress on game days when commissioner David Stern instituted a dress code in 2005.
Iverson finally acquiesced to the league's wishes, however grudgingly. He once famously said: "Just because you put a guy in a tuxedo, it doesn't mean he's a good guy."
He later summarized his fiercely independent style in an interview with B/R's Lance Fresh: "That's the greatest feeling, to be able to express yourself the way that you want to."
The Respect of His Peers
The highest form of compliment that can be bestowed on a player can only come from those who competed with or against him.
That being the case, Iverson is in some pretty lofty company. Few players of his generation are held in higher esteem by former opponents and teammates.
On Thursday night the TNT broadcast crew—Charles Barkley, Chris Webber and Shaquille O'Neal—each took a moment at the end of the postgame show to pay homage to Iverson. Webber even went as far as to call him the best teammate he ever played with.
Even the best player on the planet, LeBron James, admitted to revering Iverson above all players, with the exception of Michael Jordan.
Per ESPN's Tom Haberstroh:
I watch Jordan more than anybody for sure. But I'll watch tapes of A.I., too. I don't take anything from A.I.. Well, I do—his will. They say he was 6 feet, but A.I. was like 5-10½. Do we even want to say 160? 170 [pounds]? Do we even want to give him that much weight? And he played like a 6-8 2-guard. He was one of the greatest finishers we've ever seen. You could never question his heart. Ever. He gave it his all. A.I. was like my second-favorite player growing up, after MJ.
That is some remarkable praise coming from a player destined for the Hall of Fame. Of course, by the time James is ready to be enshrined in Springfield, Iverson will already be there, waiting.