Initially, when Allen Iverson retired about three weeks ago, I didn’t think it was necessary to write about it since he hasn’t been on an NBA team in the last three seasons. His season in the Turkish professional league served as an indicator of the end of his playing days. Yet, his announcement is important. His retirement officially ends any chance of a return to the NBA. It gives his millions of fans some closure and some sort of acceptance to the fact that revolutionary players can’t stay revolutionary forever.
Iverson became a polarizing figure the moment he began to receive any media coverage. His personality and physical characteristics evoke a certain sense of divide. His tattoos, cornrows, and sense of confidence make for a figure who is never rattled by criticism. He never felt deterred to be himself despite all the other scrutiny he came under for his off-court antics including David Stern implementing a dress code for all NBA players because of Iverson’s wardrobe.
The first indication of this enigmatic athlete came when Iverson was a 17 year old star in 1993 in Hampton, Virginia. He and a group of friends went to a bowling alley and created a “raucous.” A verbal argument escalated into far more when punches began being thrown. The altercation is believed to have been stemmed by the use of pejorative and racist remarks directed towards Iverson and his group. This event made national headlines for two reasons. First, it was a racial altercation and second, at the time Iverson was the best high school basketball player in the country. Though the real reason will never be known for the fight, Iverson was sentenced to 15 years in prison for his part in that fight on that February night. The fact that only Iverson and his group of black friends were arrested is noteworthy and was very controversial at the time of the court proceedings. Fortunately, Iverson only had to spend four months in jail before the governor of Virginia pardoned him.
Despite his prison term, head coach John Thompson was willing to offer him a spot at Georgetown. During this time in college, NBA scouts discovered Iverson’s brilliance as a game changer. For Iverson, two years of college basketball was enough to prove to NBA teams that he could play amongst all the talent in the NBA. As a Hoya, he won the Big East Rookie of the Year, First Team All American, and set the team record for scoring average, a record that still stands. Everything he accomplished on the basketball court was done with a sense of swagger though. His fashion sense became trendy. His Georgetown Hoya uniform and Jordan sneakers became an iconic image of basketball throughout the 1990s.
Iverson became the first 6’0 player to be drafted #1 overall when he was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1996 from a talented pool filled with Stephon Marbury, Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant, and Steve Nash. This draft class would later be responsible for a grand total of four MVP awards and numerous records. Critics of his called this pick a terrible one because of the lack of maturity on Iverson’s part. He was now a professional athlete, he needed to start acting like one. But, this idea of successfully transitioning into a more mature media character never came to fruition for Iverson. It didn’t matter though, because this “bad ass” attitude was thought of as cool and something which was responsible for Iverson’s popularity amongst all young players.
During the first 10 full seasons of his career, Iverson led the 76ers to six playoff appearances including the 2001 NBA Finals against the Shaquille O’Neal led Los Angeles Lakers. He broke out for 48 points in Game 1 of that series, which ended with Philadelphia victorious. The 76ers lost the next four games despite a collective 130 point effort in those games from Iverson. He went on to win the league’s MVP award at season’s end. During those 10 full years in Philly, Iverson led the league in minutes per game six times, points per game four times, and steals per game three times. Also of note, is the fact that during that 10 year span, Iverson averaged more than 30 points per game an astonishing five times including 33 PPG in the 2005-2006 season. Although his on-court play was sensation, it too drew much criticism. His skeptics cited the fact that Iverson was the most selfish player in the NBA. With Philly, his field goal percentage never elevated above 45% with the exception of one season. Clearly, that did not matter as his 76ers had one of the most successful periods of winning in the franchise’s history during this “Iverson Era.” All good teams need a player like Iverson who is willing to take charge and do whatever it takes to win even if it means that he has to hoist up 25 shot each night. He had enough offensive talent to score a basket on anybody who defended him including the famous Jordan double crossover mid range jumper. His offensive prowess is unparalleled to any other barely six footer the league has ever witnessed.
I kept on mentioning the term “full” in the previous paragraph since in his 11th season, Iverson was traded to the Denver Nuggets. After his first and only full season in Denver, the 2007-2008 campaign, Iverson’s number began to gradually decline. He was traded to the Detroit Pistons and then signed with the Memphis Grizzlies during the next offseason. Then, he was traded back to the 76ers during the 2009-2010 season. He began and ended his career in the city of “brotherly love.” His “bad ass” attitude could partially be attributed to the city of Philadelphia as well. During the 1980s and 1990s, Philadelphia became a major pop culture hub in the United States. Prior to Iverson even joining the 76ers, he was seen as an basketball off-court icon to kids around the country. Adding Philly to the mix, made it an even more extreme combo.
In a league that has had many of these polarizing figures throughout its history, Iverson stands out. Iverson’s on-court presence was so unique. Rarely, do we find such an athletic player who is willing to drive as hard as possible against men who tower almost a foot taller. He was willing to sacrifice everything for basketball as long as he achieved glory and the W’s in the result column. Perhaps, sometimes he might have put too much on the line. Off the court, Iverson had some memorable moments including the infamous practice rant and his aforementioned wardrobe, which included baggy shorts, chains, and sideways caps. Because of him, players had to begin conducting themselves in a more appropriate manner with their attire during press conferences, arriving and leaving an arena, and while on the bench. That is certainly not the only way he transformed the league. He leaves an indelible mark on the NBA. He transcended the Point Guard position. With him came an evolution towards a more score-first Point Guard position which we see so widespread today in Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and Kyrie Irving to name a few.
The original A.I. played a critical role in the transformation of the NBA from the beginning of his career. People will remember him for his scoring as much as his heart. He may be the shortest player ever to win the scoring title, a feat he accomplished four times, but was able to do so because he had the greatest desire to push forward. He may have logged the fourth most minutes on average per game in NBA history, but he’ll also be remembered for his pitchman prowess as an endorser for Reebok. His stellar perimeter defense will be remembered as much as his trend setting ways with the shooting sleeve, which is now worn by almost all superstars in the NBA. His electrifying nature cannot simply stop the moment he retired. Rather, the legend of Allen Iverson will live on as long as the Point Guard position is still in existence.