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Hall of Fame is Iverson's greatest achievement

Slight stature, injuries and criticism never deterred the Sixers star

POSTED: Apr 4, 2016 7:32 PM ET

By Fran Blinebury

BY Fran Blinebury

NBA.com

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Despite standing just 5-11, Allen Iverson averaged 26.7 points during his career to rank seventh in NBA history.

HOUSTON — No one ever described Allen Iverson much as being reflective, unless they were talking about the tangle of gold chains hanging from his neck or the diamonds that flashed as bright as his smile.

But here was the 40-year-old version sitting comfortably in a chair at one end of a hotel ballroom, surrounded by the kind of media swarm that used to make him fidget and strike out — "you all drove me out of the game, I've got to tell you that" — and telling stories as if attending a family reunion.

Just as his every move on the court during a 14-season NBA career was a flash of improvisation and unpredictability, so was the trail that took him from Hampton, Va. to a prison stint to Georgetown University to a starring role with the 76ers and now to election into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

"I used to say my biggest accomplishment was just getting drafted, whether it was the first pick or the 100th or whatever," Iverson said on Monday when the Class of 2016 was announced. "But now this is the best feeling because it's a tribute to everybody who helped me and stood by me, regardless. My actions, right or wrong, there were people who supported me through this long, hard journey."

Hall Of Fame Enshrinee Allen Iverson

TNT's Craig Sager interviews Allen Iverson, a 2016 enshrinee for the Naismith Basketball Hall Of Fame.

In a way, it is fitting that Iverson goes in flanked by 7-1 Shaquille O'Neal and 7-6 Yao Ming, because his game and his persona, if not his physical size — 5-11, 160 pounds soaking wet — were as big as anyone in his time.

Iverson was more than his career averages of 26.7 points and 6.2 assists per game, 11 All-Star appearances, four scoring titles and the 2001 MVP award. He was a natural force that swept into a room with the force of a twister and left would-be defenders as well as fans and casual observers picking up the pieces.

You loved him or you didn't. There was little in between and there was no attempt to rehabilitate or dress up the image when he arrived for the official Hall of Fame ceremony wearing ripped jeans, a t-shirt bearing the king of hearts, a red leather baseball cap that was askew and a grin. A grown man now, he'll tell you, while still looking like a contradictory kid.

"I don't regret nothing in my life," said Iverson, then went right into contradicting himself by saying he'd like a do-over with his old coach Larry Brown. "If I could have a wish as an athlete, I wish I had bought into what he was trying to give me all along. I was just being defiant, being a certified (expletive) for nothing, when all he wanted was the best for me. I didn't take constructive criticism the way I should have. When I finally caught up to that, that's when I went to being the MVP."

Allen Iverson's Top 10 Sixers Plays

Relive the top 10 plays from Allen Iverson's career with the Philadelphia 76ers!

He was the perilously skinny, little guard who thrived in the big man's game because he was absolutely fearless with the ball in his hands. Iverson could have pulled up for even more of those off-balance jumpers from way outside, but he enjoyed too much the macho challenge of going into the paint and taking it all the way to the hoop, even if it meant getting knocked and thrown down painfully to the hardwood floor time after time after time. And getting up.

"A.I. was the type of guy you couldn't break," said the muscled O'Neal. "I tried to break him a couple times. A lot of little guys when they tried to come in there with all that fancy stuff, I tried to put them on their back. But he just kept coming back. He hated to lose. That's the type of guy you want to have in a back alley with you. The type of guy you want to have on your team. He was a joy to watch."

"There were a lot of mornings where I was walking around like Fred Sanford, and my wife would say, 'I know you're not playing basketball tonight," Iverson remembered with a twinkle in his eye. "I'd say, 'Oh, yes, I am.' Because there might be that one person there who will never go to another game, and maybe I can give them something they'll remember for the rest of their lives."

Iverson's 60-points vs Magic

Highlights from Allen Iverson's 60-point game against the Magic in 2005.

It was that reckless disregard for his body that made him "The Answer" for so many for so long and a big question to others who didn't approve of his lifestyle or his friends or the way he dressed or spoke.

The reveal on this day is that all those negative opinions did bother him — deeply, in fact.

"I'm human, just like you," Iverson said. "I hurt. I bleed. I read things and they affected me. I did let them get to me at times.

"What I had to learn is that some people are just not going to like you. I had to have thick skin, when I would see what people would say or write about me. Now, I just concentrate on the people who say, 'I love you, A.I.' It took until this old-ass age of mine to realize that. I feel so good for everybody who helped me. I'm talking about the true fan who from Day One was like, 'OK, I'm an Allen Iverson fan.' I want them to sit back and feel like they accomplished this, because you can't do nothing by yourself. You need somebody with you when you're down to pick you back up. I want everybody who rooted for me to feel good about today."

Allen Iverson's Jersey Retirement Ceremony

The Philadelphia 76ers welcome back Allen Iverson for his jersey retirement ceremony.

Now he's 40, out of the game, but still close enough to it on the nights when he gets his daughter and a bag of popcorn on his lap and shakes his head at the TV screen when he sees some of the stuff that Stephen Curry does.

"The game is still in me," Iverson said. "I wish I could still play. But I'll take this — Hall of Fame. Man, I never saw it coming."

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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