I did, however, years ago, buy a retro 76ers Allen Iverson jersey that still I own to this day. He was playing in Philadelphia at the time; his failed Detroit and Denver stints a few years away. The jersey just seemed like a cool thing to own, homage to one of the league’s coolest players.
I always liked Iverson. He was a bad ass. I mean, come on. The kid was six feet tall, if that, and could score on anyone, at any time. He was a ridiculous talent who marched to the beat of a different drummer.
In 1996, one of the deepest drafts the NBA has ever seen, Iverson was the consensus number one pick over Marcus Camby, Ray Allen, Stephon Marbury, Antoine Walker, Erick Dampier, Steve Nash, Jermaine O’Neal, Peja Stojakovic, Tony Delk and Kobe Bryant.
Iverson immediately lived up to the hype. He took the league by storm, averaging 23.5 points per game his rookie season on his way to Rookie of the Year honors. Within five years, he led the 76ers to the NBA Finals, basically by himself. That season, he scored nearly three times as many points as his teammates, a list which included Aaron McKie, Tyrone Hill, George Lynch, Tyrone Hill and Eric Snow, none of whom have been known to light up the twine.
As if his on-the-court accomplishments weren’t impressive enough, Allen Iverson gave us possibly the greatest press conference ever. “We talkin’ about practice” has entered the vernacular of any serious sports fan.
Make no mistake, Iverson was dominant. He was the shortest player to ever win an NBA scoring title, doing so four times. He is 6th all-time in points scored per game behind Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, LeBron James, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West. Perhaps even more impressive, he is fourth all time in minutes per game behind Wilt, Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson.
76er success lived and died with A.I. Was he a pass-first point guard? Yes. Was he difficult to build a team around? Most likely. Was he stubborn and strong-willed? Absolutely. But show me a six-footer who’s not and I’ll show you a guy who doesn’t make it in the league.
This off-season, a free agent more assured of his skills than any team owner, Allen Iverson could not find a home. In a move that seemed like the Iverson farewell tour, he signed with the Memphis Grizzlies in September. The only problem was Iverson wasn’t ready to say goodbye. At least not like that.
After only three games, the two parties agreed to part ways, leaving Iverson team-less once again. When no other team came a-knockin’, Iverson came to the harsh realization that demand had waned with his supply. Adam Smith never said it would be like this. So Allen Iverson opted unwillingly for retirement.
Upon that announcement, former players-turned-analysts like Jamal Mashburn and Jalen Rose, who are only a few years older than Iverson, used the word ‘icon’ to describe him. That word has been thrown around a lot lately and appropriately so. Iverson was the first big name to introduce tattoos and corn rows into the NBA, an image that alienated a lot of people from the league. But true fans knew Iverson, mistakes and all, was the Answer. The league without Iverson would have been like hip-hop without gangsta rap.
Nobody ever doubted that the oft misunderstood Iverson gave his heart, body and soul to “the game that he went out there and died for.” But his appearance led to preconceived notions about the man.
Recently, people poked fun at Rex Ryan and Urban Meyer who dared make the emasculating mistake of crying in front of others. But wasn’t it Jim Valvano who taught us to laugh, think and be moved to tears every day? This week, Allen Iverson adhered to Jimmy V’s mantra, giving us yet another memorable moment and shedding more light into his character. Before watching this video, be warned. If you’re an Iverson fan or even somewhat sappy, you’ll squirt some tears more than at the end of “The Blind Side.”
Iverson’s made mistakes. Who hasn’t? As we’ve seen lately, even the world’s most dominant athlete has character flaws.
Iverson’s best years are behind him but at least now, in some way, he gets to go out on his own terms, in Philadelphia where he started in front of those who adored him most. This was no pity signing. With only five wins this season, the 76ers need Allen Iverson as badly as he needs them.
Expect a tearful and rousing welcome home when Iverson suits up for Philadelphia once again. The City of Brotherly Love is hard on its players but loving of its idols. Allen Iverson is definitely one of them.