Last week Philadelphia 76ers great Allen Iverson officially announced his retirement from the game of basketball. Iverson was last seen stateside in 2010 during his brief return to the 76ers. His last few stints as a member of the Detroit Pistons and Memphis Grizzlies were underwhelming and will be forgotten, as well as his time in Denver and return to Philadelphia. But Iverson’s first run in Philly was magical and is what we’ll remember forever.
Generously listed at 6 feet and 165 lbs., Iverson was one of the toughest players to ever play on an NBA court. Most times the smallest player on the court, the man known as “The Answer” was also the best scorer on the court.
Iverson is nineteenth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with 24,368 points and sixth overall in scoring average with 26.7 points per game behind Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, LeBron James, Wilt Chamberlain, and Michael Jordan—that’s pretty good company.
Much like Michael Jordan before him, Allen Iverson was bigger than the game of basketball, but in a different way. Inner-city kids identified with A.I., unlike the Jordan’s, Barkley’s and Malone’s before him. Allen dressed like them and spoke like them. He overcame the odds by being incarcerated at an early age to come out of prison and live his dream. He was their hero.
ESPN’s Scoop Jackson echoed my sentiments on Iverson’s importance in a 2010 interview. “I’ve always thought that [Allen] Iverson, even to this day, is the most influential athlete we’ve had over this past generation,” Jackson said. “He represents an entire generation the same way Mike [Jordan] did a generation before, the same way Julius Erving did before that, and Muhammad Ali before that. Iverson represents this generation of athlete. If you look at the role that athletes have played in the history of African Americans look at the role that Muhammad Ali played--and our athletes are not just athletes. They tend to transcend what they do—Iverson is the same way.”
“If you look at Iverson as just a basketball player you’ll miss his point,” Jackson added. “I think for this generation there has not been anyone that has had the type of impact that Allen Iverson has had. He makes the cats that he visually and theoretically represents feel that he speaks for them in a larger arena.”
Allen Iverson influenced the post-Jordan era of basketball players as well. For years so many players came into the league wearing the number 23 in honor of Michael Jordan. In the new millennium an influx of players came in wearing the number 3 in honor of Iverson, most notably, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Steve Francis, and formerly Gerald Wallace and Tyson Chandler. Tattoos, arm sleeves, and cornrows became the signature look for Iverson and many players to come after him.
The Hip-Hop generation loved Iverson because he was one of us. Regardless of the number of zeroes on his contract A.I. stayed humble and kept it real. The average person could relate to him and supported him unconditionally through the good and the bad.
The detractors will always mention his run-ins with the law, his alleged gambling problem, and his infamous “practice” rant to diminish the legacy of A.I. I too am guilty of focusing on the negative sides of Iverson. But much like the point Iverson made with his “practice” rant; you have to look at the big picture. Is missing a practice really important considering he dropped 30-points a game every night? Is focusing on Iverson’s rough edges more important than marveling at his stellar accomplishments on the court?
History will lump Iverson in with Barkley, Ewing, Malone, and Stockton as great players that never won the big one. Like another former 6er, Charles Barkley, Iverson wasn’t always blessed with the best personnel. Considering he took a team to the NBA Finals that’s starting lineup featured the modest talents of Eric Snow, George Lynch, Tyrone Hill and an aging Dikembe Mutombo speaks volumes on how badass Allen Iverson was. The 2001 Sixers were the only team to defeat the juggernaut Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs on the road to their second of three consecutive titles—that was because of A.I., he dropped 48 in that game.
The Basketball Hall of Fame awaits Allen Iverson. Throughout his fourteen-year career Allen Iverson was the 1997 Rookie of the Year, a four-time scoring champion, an 11-time NBA All-Star, a two-time All-Star Game MVP, an Olympic bronze medalist, a 7-time All-NBA team selection, and the 2001 NBA MVP.
Without question, Allen Iverson is the best scoring little man of all-time.
Thank you, Bubba Chuck.