Archive 75

Allen Iverson

By Michael C. Wright·

Nicknamed 'The Answer,' Allen Iverson left plenty questioning how a 6-footer could not only survive, but thrive, in an NBA world of giants for 14 seasons as one of the most prolific scorers and toughest competitors of his generation.

Iverson led the league in scoring four times, averaging a career-high 31.4 points in 2002, and finished No. 1 in the NBA in minutes played seven times. It was a storied career in which Iverson won Rookie of the Year (1997) and MVP (2001) in addition to receiving All-Star recognition 11 times and being named to the All-NBA team seven times.

Iverson channeled his hardscrabble youth in Hampton Roads, Va., and toughness as a prep state champion quarterback in football to consistently challenge bigger and stronger opponents in the NBA, dominating them with lightning quickness, a killer crossover that became his trademark, and a gritty determination to attack the rim.

Knock Iverson down and be bounces back up almost every single time.

That’s how we knew Iverson wasn’t lying when he talked about 'playing every game like it’s my last.'

Archive 75 Allen Iverson

High expectations accompanied Iverson as the No. 1 pick of the 1996 NBA Draft that also included Stephon Marbury (No. 4), Ray Allen (No. 5), Kobe Bryant (No. 13), and Steve Nash (No. 15), and the guard out of Georgetown was more than ready to deliver.

With Hoyas coach John Thompson in attendance, Iverson served up a preview of what was to come in his NBA debut against the Milwaukee Bucks. Philadelphia lost the game, but Iverson won over the hearts of Sixers fans that night with 30 points and six assists.

Indeed, the revolution was under way.

Many people point to March 12 of Iverson’s rookie year as a signature moment, when he crossed up Michael Jordan for a mid-range jumper in a loss to the Chicago Bulls. Little did they know that 26 days later, Iverson would begin an unbelievable run of prolific scoring.

It started April 7, once again against Chicago. Iverson drilled the Bulls for 44 points on 16-of-32 shooting to kickstart an NBA rookie-record run of five-straight games in which he scored at least 40 points. Wilt Chamberlain’s record of four consecutive games with at least 40 points stood for 37 years until Iverson dropped 50 against Cleveland in the fourth game of his magical run.

Two days later, Iverson set the rookie record with 40 points against Washington on 15 of 29 from the field.

Interestingly, Iverson inflicted all that damage in the midst of an eight-game losing streak that wouldn’t be snapped until April 16.

Wearing a white durag over freshly-braided hair, Iverson smiled from the podium as he clutched the 1997 NBA Rookie of the Year award.

Iverson became the first Philadelphia 76er to take home the honor, averaging 23.5 points per game (sixth-best in the NBA overall) during the 1996-97 season to edge out Marbury, who finished second.

'The day is finally here,' he said.

Iverson would dedicate the award to his mother, Ann, handing her the heavy piece of hardware, followed by a kiss on the forehead and a warm embrace.

'Most of all, I want to thank my mom,' Iverson said. 'She gave me the heart that I have right now, and she made me believe since I was young that I could do anything I wanted to do.'

Everybody knew he’d do more.

Despite his popularity growing steadily, Iverson at this point hadn’t yet made an NBA All-Star Game, despite averaging 26.8 points and 41. 5 minutes in his third season as a pro.

Most figured it was only a matter of time before Iverson reached that milestone because the smallish guard had already accomplished so much in his life just to get to the NBA. This video reveals some of the difficult challenges Iverson faced growing up in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia.

'He said, ‘Mom, without you and God, I’ll be a corpse,' Iverson’s mother, Ann, said. 'That blew my mind.'

Iverson became a prisoner at 18, when he was convicted in July, 1993 of three felony counts of maiming by a mob, stemming from a fight between a group of high schoolers at a bowling alley in Hampton, Va. Iverson would serve four months in prison before he was granted conditional clemency from former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, which opened the door for him to enroll at Georgetown University. Eventually, a three-judge panel of the Virginia Court of Appeals reversed the conviction.

Despite the difficulty of that ordeal, Iverson would never complain or use it for an excuse.

Instead, he learned from the experience and continued to grind toward greatness both on and off the court, garnering love from fans all around the world by remaining true to himself and to his roots.

This epic duel could seriously be viewed as the greatest non-NBA Finals series in league history, given the storylines and exploits engineered nightly by two of basketball’s most exciting young players in Iverson and Toronto Raptors forward Vince Carter.

You’ve got the clean-cut Carter, and all of his explosive skills as an aerial acrobat. Then there’s Iverson, the

NBA’s leading scorer and rough-around-the-edges rising superstar who was automatically cast as the villain.

The storyline would quickly change as the series took on the feel of a heavyweight championship bout with the smaller fighter winning over the crowd as the fight wore on.

In Game 1, Iverson racked up 36 points, eight rebounds and seven steals only to be bested by Carter, who poured in 10 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter on the way to a Raptors win. Iverson answered with 54 points in the Sixers’ Game 2 win, only for Carter to come back two nights later with a 50-point outing in Game 3. Iverson would score a combined 82 points over the next two games -- both Philadelphia wins -- to give the Sixers a 3-2 lead in the series. Awarded the MVP the night of Game 5, Iverson scored 52 points to go with seven assists and four steals in Philadelphia’s 121-88 win.

'I always play with my heart,' Iverson said. 'I play with my heart first because I feel like that’s all I’ve got.'

Carter bounced back with 39 points in Game 6 as the Raptors staved off elimination and tied the series 3-3.

Game 7 would embody the slugfest feel of the series as Carter and Iverson combined to shoot 14 of 45. The Raptors would double-team and rough up Iverson the majority of Game 7, before he unlocked the playmaking element of his game to push Philadelphia to victory. Iverson finished with 21 points and a career-high 16 assists. Carter, meanwhile, would score 20 points, missing the potential series-winning jumper as time expired.

Hit him, push him down, rough him up, do what you want.

'You’ve still got to deal with me,' Iverson said.

NBA fans would soon recognize that when Iverson said deal with me, he meant both on and off the court. Misunderstood because of his love for hip-hop culture, Iverson spent his career toiling for acceptance, but not at the expense of gaining it unauthentically.

Instead of focusing on the tattoos, baggy jeans, gaudy jewelry, and cornrows in his hair, Iverson wanted people to try to understand me. Fearlessly, Iverson would forever change the culture around the NBA  and around basketball in general once the world recognized the deep substance behind the style.

'I’d rather have more heart than physical ability and talent because I think heart gets you a long way,' Iverson said. 'A lot of times people don’t think they can go the extra mile because they’re fatigued, mentally drained, or physically drained. I’m always thinking I can go the extra mile. You can have all the talent in the world. But if you don’t have no heart to back that talent up, somewhere down the line you’re gonna be lost.'

Iverson’s trademark crossover dribble features prominently in this series of clips, which is fitting considering the way he crossed over to the NBA and its fanbase, winning love and admiration from the mainstream.

Through toughness, fearlessness, and intense effort, Iverson was somewhat of a 'people’s champ' for basketball fans all over the world, who rooted for the little guy with the gigantic heart.