Written September 2016
With the 1st pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers select…”
They said he was too small for the pros and entering the NBA at 6’0 tall one could hardly argue. A high school football stand out, he was destined for the NFL. Yet on September 10, 2016 Allen Iverson was about to present a hall of fame speech after being inducted into the 2016 NBA Hall of Fame. He stood at the podium teary eyed throughout his 32 minutes long speech and I listened to a man that was more grateful to the people who stood by him through out his 14 year NBA career than he was proud of his own achievements on the court.
A.I as he’s so affectionately called by fans and even none sports fans alike, donned the famous #3 jersey. He was a devastating player with the basketball in his hands and it was not uncommon for defenders guarding him to leave games prematurely on a stretcher with broken metatarsals.
Explosive off the court as he was on it, the media was never too far away. In his hall of fame speech he even thanked them for providing the fuel he needed for such an illustrious career much to the amusement of his audience. He once famously said the word “practice” 14 times incredulously at a press conference after being suspended by head coach Larry Brown for failing to turn up for practice. Iverson felt like his commitment at the time was being questioned, when he had proven his commitment over and over.
Very short in stature but with the heart of a gladiator, he drew the respect and ire of his opponents and adoration of his fans. Armed with ball handling skills that one would think he dribbled it with a string attached to it, he became known for his draw dropping cross overs that can only be described as ‘Ronaldinho-esque’.
In February 1993 after being heavily recruited by every college in the nation, a then 17 yr old Iverson found himself in the middle of a brawl at a bowling alley. It was alleged that he hit a woman in the head with a chair during the brawl, claims that he staunchly rejected and still do 2 decades later. Iverson along with one of his friends were arrested and charged, drawing a 15 yr prison sentence with 10 years suspended. Having spent only 4 months in a correctional facility in Newport News, Iverson was granted clemency and his case was later thrown out in the Court of Appeals due to insufficient evidence. Destined for greatness only months ago, now he had a stained record and a stigma attached. After being released, Iverson spent his senior year in high school at an at risk for kids school where he wasn’t able to participate in any sports. The phone calls stopped coming in, the scouts weren’t setting up appointments to sit on his front porch to convince he and his mother why their college was the best choice – Allen Iverson was out of options.
Those familiar with Iverson’s story knows that coach John Thompson from George Town University was the only coach that decided to take a risk on the young teen. With his mother virtually begging for coach Thompson to give him an opportunity, a decision that later proved to be very fruitful. Iverson spent 2 years at George Town where he won the Big East rookie of the year award and at the end of his 2 year tenure would set the all time scoring record for Georgetown. His declaration for the NBA draft after just 2 seasons meant that Allen Iverson became the first player in his school’s history to make such an early declaration. A.I standing at the podium teary eyed, thanked coach Thompson for as he puts it ‘saving his life’.
In his rookie season he got off to a great start breaking several rookie records and forced the league to take notice. He spoke of how star struck he was the first time he faced his idol, the greatest basketball player that ever lived – Michael Jordan. “I remember the first time I played against him and I walked out on the court, I looked at him and for the first time in my life a human being didn’t look real to me. I can’t stop looking at him. I’m looking at his shoes and I’m like ‘Man, he’s got on the Jordan’s.’ It was Mike. It was my idol. It was my hero.” a proud A.I recalled, such was his bravery though, that he wanted to challenge his idol, knowing very well the outcome when others dared to attempt this.
MJ also wanted to get a piece of the new sensation and on one possession famously told coach Phil Jackson ‘I got him’ in reference to guarding him on defense. A.I squared him up in his famous triple threat stance; faked right, crossed over left, head faked, crossed over right and pulled up for a jump shot hitting nothing but net. His teammates were in awe and Michael Jordan was left in a daze. A.I would finish the night on 37 points, tying a then career high in a 104-108 loss to the Bulls. The loss would have no doubt put a damper on his exploits that night, but all who were lucky to witness that performance knew they witnessed GREATNESS in the making – A.I had arrived.
Allen Iverson entertained his fans every time he touched the court and with a very fruitful NBA career. He went on to become an 11 x Allstar, 7 x All NBA player, 4 x NBA scoring champion, an NBA MVP and a host of other individual awards. His only regret would have been not to have won the much coveted NBA title, the pinnacle of success in basketball. That aside A.I’s fans can smile gleefully and count themselves lucky to have witnessed GREATNESS.
Written by: Jason McPherson