We talkin’bout Iverson. I mean…we talkin’bout Allen Iverson.
What more can be said about the indestructible engine and NBA cultural phenomenon that was Allen Iverson that hasn’t already been said about 24,368 times even before his recent retirement ceremony?
Am I about to let that stop me from saying it all over again in my own voice as though it’s the first time it’s ever been said?
I will, though, keep it short…kinda like the man himself. Comparatively speaking, anyway.
Starting with the unoriginal and the obvious, A.I. (AKA “The Answer”), the former Philadelphia 76er, Denver Nugget, Detroit Piston, and Memphis Grizzly was in all likelihood the most potently devastating offensive force at his size that the League has ever known. Generously listed at six-feet, Iverson still holds down the 7th spot on the NBA’s all-time list for scoring average, with the only person in the top 20 who comes within a jumpshot of him, both in scoring and general littleness, being Jerry West (6’ 2” and a notch ahead of A.I. at #6).
While the battle rages on about whether Iverson is “pound for pound” the greatest scorer in NBA history, allow me to wholeheartedly not get involved in that particular quagmire of a concept and just talk a little bit about something else that I’ve heard is causing at least some mild contention around hoop circles (I know, I know…“around” “hoop” “circles” tres-redundant): Allen Iverson, first ballot Hall of Famer.
At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. My gut reaction was that it wasn’t anything close to a lock. But, upon further consideration…maybe.
From his crossover of Michael Jordan, to his regular season and All-Star MVP’s, to leading the league in scoring a few times, to his 2001 trip to the Finals, Iverson was responsible for countless memorable moments throughout his career. Of course, those memories weren’t always pretty (raging battles with coaches and dress codes everywhere), or normal (selling his old house to a teammate and allegedly leaving behind a Mercedes, twenty-plus new pairs of Timberland boots and random bags of crumpled up money). And, I have never really been able to forgive his sometimes-reprehensible behavior (locking his naked wife out of the house, then kicking in the door of the house where he believed she took refuge and flashing a gun to intimidate; or being caught in his car with his entourage by police, an entourage that happened to be carrying a bunch of unlicensed guns and stolen cellphones).
But, even in light of those things, I have to give Iverson my “Pete Rose, Respect Due Award.” That is, admitting and appreciating the great abilities and wealth of accomplishments of a given player, no matter how much douchebaggery or hickdeaddedness they’re also responsible for.
In addition to his ability to score from anywhere and endure constant physical punishment despite his slight frame and shortage of height, what I most admired about Iverson was his indomitable will and the fact that he truly embodied the cliché “play every game like it’s your last.” I can’t ever remember watching a game with Iverson in it where he looked like he was coasting, and the list of injuries that he played through – often times several at once – read like the medical chart for an entire army returning from war. If he were in a “Most Interesting Man In The World” commercial, the voiceover would say, “Nails compare themselves to him for toughness.”
For all of his physical gifts, though, I think his first-ballot status is cemented by the fact that he is the extremely rare athlete who totally changed the culture of the sport in which he starred. As many have already said in their “All About Iverson” pieces, A.I. brought about the era of Hip-Hop culture in the NBA. With his signature corn rows, head-to-heal tattoos and below-the-knee shorts, Iverson changed the game for future generations to come that will last long after his retirement.
Sure, others may have had the hair (center Ben Wallace came in during the same year as Iverson in 1996, and he, too, sported cornrows as well as the part-time afro); and had the tattoos (Dennis Rodman, with his own neck-to-toe tats, retired the year that Iverson was drafted); and even the calf-length shorts (Michael Jordan brought long shorts into fashion, and Chris Webber stretched ‘em out with his Michigan Wolverines “culottes” in 1993); but none put them all together and carried them with the swagger of a kid who came in with nothing to lose and everything to win before him.
Maybe players like Kyrie Irving, who’s already scored 40 or more a handful of times in his short career, will eclipse the statistical legacy of Iverson before it’s all said and done, but no single person playing the game today has had as much of an effect on both the culture and stat books as The Answer.
Iverson was the truest of true originals and, though he didn’t quite finish it exactly the way he planned, his career was pure Sinatra – he did it his way. Always.
I mean, we’re talking about Allen Iverson.