When you hear the name Allen Iverson, many words come to mind, and not many of them are positive.
Gifted with speed and incredible handling ability, Iverson has long been considered among basketball enthusiasts as a ball hog, a team cancer, and an uncoachable player. More recently in his brief stints with Denver and Detroit, he has been termed as "washed up," or a player that will never know his role on the team.
"The Answer" has been one of the most controversial figures in recent NBA history, and those who follow basketball either love him or hate him.
Life did not start out easy for Iverson. He was born in the poor section of Hampton, Virginia to a single mother and a father that deserted him. At his one area of residence in Hampton, he had to walk through knee deep sewage daily just to reach his house.
He grew up in an area surrounded by poverty and violence. In just one summer, he witnessed the death of almost 10 of his closest friends.
One summer, he was at a bowling alley with a group of his friends. A fight broke out between his group of friends and a group of white bowlers. He was accused of starting a mob fight and assaulting a white girl by hitting her over the head with a chair.
The prosecution claimed the security tapes showed Iverson hitting the girl over the head (which they did not), and witness testimony accused him of both. Iverson was only 17 at the time, but was convicted to five years in prison as an adult.
The case drew national attention from leaders of the black community such as Bill Cosby and Spike Lee. People from all around the area and country called for Iverson's release. The first black governor of Virginia, in a move that would ruin his political career from there forward, pardoned Iverson and let him out of jail after only four months in prison.
Once out of prison, he had to adhere to a curfew and could not play basketball or accept a scholarship until he graduated high school. He had to decline an offer from Kentucky and later on at his mother's urging signed on to play at Georgetown under coach John Thompson.
He had a successful two-year career at Georgetown, where he was only able to play for two seasons because of his need to support his mom back at home. Iverson was Georgetown's all-time leading scorer, and became known for his quick first step and his nasty crossover which left defenders either on the floor or backing off of him.
In 1996, he was drafted first overall to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Iverson was joining one of the NBA's worst franchises, one that had not reached the NBA Finals since the days of Julius Erving. The Sixers had missed the playoffs the previous four seasons, and they had "won" the right to the first pick that year with an 18-64 record, the second worst mark in franchise history.
Each year after he arrived the Sixers improved their total in the win column, until they reached the pinnacle of their success in the 2000-01 season with a trip to the NBA Finals.
Iverson led the Sixers to the NBA Finals with arguably one of the worst supporting casts in history.
Aaron McKie and Eric Snow were the next best two scorers on the team, and they averaged 11.6 and 9.5 points per game respectively. Dikembe Mutombo was already past his prime, but still good for 12.7 points and 13 boards.
Compare Iverson's supporting cast to the supporting cast of many superstars today. LeBron James had a supporting cast this past season that included Mo Williams and Delonte West.
Williams put up 17.5 points per game while West added 11.9.
I would even argue that the Cavs' frontcourt was better this season than the Sixers' back then, with Ilgauskas and Varejao combining for 21 points a game and 15 boards a game. Mutombo's help in the frontcourt was provided by Tyrone Hill.
People argue that Iverson should have shared the ball with his teammates more instead of trying to do everything himself. People criticized him when he did not show up to practice. But no one worked harder on the court than Iverson did.
The year the Sixers went to the Finals, Iverson played almost 39 minutes per game and averaged 28.8 PPG.
Instead of using the defensive end as a little breather like many players do, he was always jumping passes, getting steals, and playing tough defense even when he was up against bigger players...even though he has never been known for his man-to-man defense.
Iverson has been known for running his mouth, leading the great Michael Jordan to say, "He has no respect for the game."
For a player that has overcome so much in his life from the beginning, I think he has turned out well. Nothing was ever handed over to him, he had to go out and get it.
He has led a successful NBA career: Rookie of the Year in 1997, MVP in 2001, and 10 NBA All-Star Game appearances, including the All-Star MVP Award in both 2001 and 2005.
He led the Philadelphia 76ers to their first NBA Finals since 1983, taking the worst team in the NBA to the top in just a few seasons.
Off the court, he founded a charitable organization known as the Crossover Foundation. Every year since 1998 he has hosted a charity celebrity basketball tournament to raise money for the Boys & Girls Club in his hometown of Hampton, Virginia.
This coming season, he will be reunited with his former coach Larry Brown. Each have a respect for each other that is rare to find if you look around the league.
I wish Iverson good luck this season with the Charlotte Bobcats, and here's to hoping that he will be able to know his role as a veteran on a young improving team.
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