The Legend of Allen Iverson
With the breaking news that Allen Iverson will be officially announcing his retirement, now is a perfect time to reflect on his incredible career. He was, without a doubt, a lightning rod in the centre of the storm in terms of attention. It takes a very special athlete to be able to withstand the pressure placed on his shoulders each and every night. The term “franchise player” gets tossed around far too often in sports today, but make no mistake about it, he was the Philadelphia 76ers. Before he arrived, Philly had not made the playoffs since the Barkley era. In Iverson’s 3rd season, he had them in the second round of the post season despite having limited offensive help around him. In 2001, he was named MVP of the entire league after guiding Philly to 56 wins and a trip to the finals. His supporting cast, whilst being fantastic defenders, were absolutely horrible offensively. He had Eric Snow alongside him in the backcourt (with Aaron Mckie, who was the team’s second best option behind A.I.) and up front they had Dikembe Mutumbo, Tyrone Hill and Jumaine Jones.
Not since Bernard King during the 84 season has a team been more reliant on one player offensively.
The road to the finals, despite the Eastern conference being universally recognised as the weaker conference, was not an easy one. They had to go through Reggie Miller, Jalen Rose and Jermaine O’Neal and the defending East champion Indiana Pacers in the first round. Then they were matched up against Vince Carter who was tearing the league up. The scoring duel between Carter and Iverson in that series was historic. Next up was a loaded Milwaukee Bucks squad that boasted Ray Allen, Glenn Robinson and Sam Cassell. Philly survived that war with a game 7 victory on the back off 44 points by Iverson.
Their reward was a finals appearance by one of the greatest teams in NBA history; The 2001 Lakers. Powered by arguably the best duo in NBA history of Shaq and Kobe, L.A. had swept Portland (conference finalists the year before), Sacramento (conference finalists the next season) and San Antonio (NBA Champions 2 years earlier) on their way to an 11-0 record with their sights set on being the first undefeated team in the playoffs in NBA history. It would take 49 points from Iverson to stop their streak, and would eventuate in being Iverson’s signature game. The Lakers did recover and dominated the rest of the series, winning 4 straight games to seal the title, but the mere fact that Iverson’s Sixers took just one game from that team is almost as significant as a championship. The Scottie Pippen-led Trailblazers couldn’t do it. The Chris Webber-led Kings couldn’t do it. The Tim Duncan-led Spurs couldn’t do it.
There is no question that Iverson was an enigma. Due to the volume of work he had to do on the offensive end, and the style of play he incorporate for his athletic gifts and skills, he was wildly inconsistent. He never shot a great percentage and his turnovers were quite high. But let’s just keep in mind what he was asked to do: It was his responsibility to score to keep those 76er teams competitive. We have seen how effective teams can be when they have a game plan to slow one player down. Let’s use Lebron as an example. When he was in Cleveland, despite being as athletically gifted as anyone in league history, he looked completely lost against Boston, Orlando and San Antonio when teams focused in on him. This is a primary reason why he bailed to Miami to prevent this from happening again.
Let’s not forget that Iverson’s body was a complete detriment. Yes, he was maybe the quickest player of his generation. But he was barely 6 feet tall and 185 pounds. He was playing the 2 guard spot, often giving up half a foot in size and 50 pounds. Once he would get by his man, he would often be greeted by an interior defender on the opposing team that would be a foot taller and possibly over 100 pounds heavier. If Charles Barkley and Dennis Rodman are applauded for their work despite being significantly undersized, then the same standard should be held for Iverson.
Some of that seems absolutely incredible, but it is entirely accurate. Despite this, he was not intimidated and was highly effective when you consider the workload and beating that he would take on a nightly basis.
When he was moved back to the point guard position (a position he started his career as) before the 04-05 season, there were doubts as to whether he could balance playmaking responsibilities along with carrying the burden of scoring. He answered (couldn’t resist. Now you see where he got his nickname from!) those doubts emphatically with producing arguably his best season of his career: 30.7 ppg (league leader), 7.9 assists per game, 4 rebounds per game and 2.4 steals per game. More importantly, he led a roster where Marc Jackson (no, not the Warriors coach) was the second leading scorer to the playoffs where they would lose to the defending NBA champions, The Detroit Pistons.
There is no doubt in my mind that Iverson should have been the MVP that season.
The lack of offensive firepower around Iverson’s career led questions to if he could play with capable teammates. This would be answered (OK, I really need to stop this now) when he was traded to Denver. Before we go any further, it is very important to acknowledge what happened here. Numerous media outlets reported that Iverson demanded a trade from Philly. This could not be further from the truth. What Iverson said, and I quote, is “I didn’t actually go ahead and ask for a trade. I went in and expressed my displeasure with the style of basketball that we were playing. We weren’t playing winning basketball. I said that if we are going to continue to play this style, and we were going to continue to lose, then I didn’t want to be a part of it.” The Sixers immediately deactivated him and proceeded to label it as a demand to be traded, and he was dealt for Andre Miller and Joe Smith in one of the most lopsided deals in recent memory.
Iverson’s arrival instantly put Denver’s season back on track (they were a sub .500 team before he joined the team and ended up winning 45 games that season, and 50 the season after). Perhaps more importantly, he showed the ability to play well alongside other scorers such as Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and Earl Boykins. After 2 and a half seasons in Denver he was traded to Detroit in what would begin a downward spiral for Allen’s career. Denver would go on to win 54 games (only a 4 game improvement over the previous year) with Billups as the new point guard and a trip to the conference finals. It’s important to note that the West was significantly weaker that year than the previous season, and I would be willing to wager money that had they had kept Iverson, they would have at least made the conference finals.
Iverson became a scapegoat in Detroit for horrific decisions made by Joe Dumars and was let go following the season. He played his final games in the NBA for the 76ers, a team he will always be remembered and associated with.
Iverson was a trailblazer (no, not the Portland Trailblazers) as he revolutionised the game. There has never been a dominant scorer at his size before, and there hasn’t been one since. This was just as significant as Jordan breaking the mould and proving doubters wrong that a scoring champ could in fact win the NBA championship, or Magic could play point guard despite 6-9, or Lebron could win in general.
He was completely underappreciated during his time in the NBA and fans liked to focus on his candid honesty during interviews (Yes, the over referenced “practice” press conference, along with him admitting that he wasn’t comfortable coming off the bench in Memphis) rather than his accomplishments that he accumulated over his wonderful career.
From the very beginning of his career, he was fearless (remember this?). He galvanised an entire generation and was completely misunderstood. He had an appreciation of the history of the game (remember when he was the first to offer Michael Jordan his starting spot in the 2003 all star game? T-Mac would also do this)
This man is a first ballot hall of famer, and one of the all-time greats that has ever played the game of basketball.
|Career Highlights & Awards|
|NBA Most Valuable Player (2001)
3 x All NBA 1st team
3 x All NBA 2nd team
1 x All NBA 3rd team
11 x NBA All Star
2 x All Star MVP
4 X NBA scoring leader
3 x NBA Steals leader
NBA Rookie of the year (1997)
Career (regular season) 26.6 ppg (6th all time)
Career (playoffs) 29.73 ppg (2nd all time)