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'Little' Iverson earns praise from NBA peers for influence

By Art Garcia,
Posted Nov 26 2009 10:53AM

Allen Iverson announced his intention to retire Wednesday, closing the door, for now, on a career marked by incredible personal highs and headline-grabbing controversies.

Iverson clearly believes he can still compete at a high level and contribute in a league where he spent 13 full seasons. The former MVP and 10-time All-Star played three games for Memphis this season, his first with the Grizzlies, before leaving the team amid questions of playing time and eventually being released.

Iverson fell into career limbo as several teams debated whether to sign perhaps the most talented "little" man in league history. Rumors in New York and Boston and elsewhere never materialized into substance, and A.I. delivered his goodbye via an open letter on Stephen A. Smith's Web site.

Iverson thanked his many fans, players that inspired him, former coaches and teammates, and the Grizzlies and Sixers, his first NBA team. But there was also a sense of remorse right off the top of the statement:

"I always thought that when I left the game, it would be because I couldn't help my team the way that I was accustomed to. However, that is not the case."

Iverson isn't required to file retirement paperwork with the league office as a free agent. Since he's not under contract, Iverson isn't forfeiting any money by retiring. He remains free to sign with any team this season or in the future.

News of Iverson's retirement sent shock waves across the league. Players were quick to praise the contributions of the four-time scoring champ, who many credit for helping introduce a hip-hop element to the NBA.

"His legacy would be huge," said Cavaliers star LeBron James, a teammate of Iverson on the 2004 USA Olympic team. "He's one of the best guys, when you're talking guys 6-foot and under, to play the game of basketball. What he's done individually -- he played injured, he played hard every single night -- I don't think it should end this way if he's done.

"But at the same time if he does, he's left some great games behind. His name will live forever in the game of basketball."

Even without a title.

"It's not even the ring situation because lots of greats -- Charles Barkley doesn't have a ring, Patrick Ewing -- there's a lot of great NBA players who never got a ring," James continued. "But the way he's going out, I don't think it should be like that for him."

There's a strong belief Iverson can still play. Teams wanting him became the roadblock.

"It's sad, man, especially coming from a guy that's close to me, a friend," Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony said. "To see him go out the way he's going out right now is not how he'd want to go out. It's almost like he's being forced to retire. It's a bad situation right now for him."

Heat guard and former Olympic teammate Dwyane Wade: "I'm No. 3. He made No. 3 cool. He made crossovers cool. He did so much for the game as a pioneer. It's sad to see him think about retirement."

Mavericks guard Jason Kidd was glad Iverson made the decision on his terms.

"He has the right to do what he wants and if it's time for him to step aside, then that's his choice," Kidd said. "Everybody's gonna have their opinion these days and as long as he's happy, that's the most important thing."

Nuggets coach George Karl was shocked by the retirement announcement. Iverson was traded to Denver in 2006 and moved to Detroit last year.

"Yeah, I am surprised," Karl said. "I think he has something left to give some team out there, but if that's his decision he'll go down in history as the best little guard ever to play the game of basketball. I was happy to have him for a couple of years. Hopefully, our paths will cross."

Anthony said, "He got dealt a bad hand from when he went to Detroit up until right now. Everything's just been kind of spiraling downhill. I don't ever want to see anybody go through something like that, especially a guy with his talent. And somebody who can still go out there and be productive."

Spurs backup center Theo Ratliff played with Iverson in Philadelphia from 1997-01.

"While we were all there we basically grew up together with that team," Ratliff said. "We were at the bottom of the league, but by that third or fourth year we were at the top. It was just a growing up process. He was a young guy who had his issues, but he was a very giving and very understanding guy of his family, which was his teammates and his immediate family.

"It was no secret that he was a guy who had his entourage, his people that he grew up with and he felt that he needed to take care of them. He was at the top of the league at the time. He was the No. 1 star, the face of the league. Of course you're going to have everyone with their hand out ready and willing to ask for anything. And he was a guy who most of the time gave. That was the kind of guy he was."

Whatever issues he had off the court, Iverson was almost universally respected by his peers on the hardwood.

"I hope he doesn't retire because I know there's still a lot of basketball left," Bobcats guard Stephen Jackson said. "I know he really wants to play the game and still has love for the game, but if he does much love and respect to him always.

"He's always been a big brother. He showed me that I can be myself in this league regardless of what people say as long as I go out there and respect the game. That's the type of person that he was. He laid the foundation for a lot of guys like me. I have nothing but respect for him and wish him the best."

Warriors guard Corey Maggette said: "He's been one the faces of the NBA. Everybody respects A.I. A lot of people in the league started getting braids because of him. He's influenced the league so much. That's just the real talk."

Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki said: "He's been so much fun to watch. At the size that he is and the way he performed over so many years, he'll definitely be missed in the league if he retires."

Iverson's competiveness and toughness are legendary.

"Everybody talked about competing pound-for-pound," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, an assistant on the 2004 USA Olympic team. "He was just one hell of a competitor. I don't care what he weighed or how tall he was, he sacrificed his body a lot and took a pounding and played hurt a lot."

Ratliff said: "That [retirement] has to be rough for him, because I know the type of competitor he is. I wished it wouldn't have gone the way it went toward the end of his career. You can never predict how you end your career. I just hope he has his life in order and keeps on moving forward."

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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