This week’s NBA Legend is Allen Iverson, one of the most divisive characters in the history of the league, writes Brian Bowler.
A phenomenal scoring talent who was lauded for his unique offensive gifts, Iverson was criticized in equal measure, with many of those critics seeing his often selfish play as being detrimental to his team’s overall prospects. With this being said, not even his biggest detractor could deny the fact that, love him or hate him, Allen Iverson was one of the most entertaining and interesting characters the NBA has seen.
The Trial of Allen Iverson
Before Allen Iverson was ever an NBA player, or even a college player for that matter, he grabbed the attention of the nation when he became embroiled in a race driven debate following his arrest for his involvement in a mass brawl in his hometown of Hampton, Virginia.
The incident, and the ensuing furore, is explored in the fantastic documentary No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson which was made as part of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series and was directed by Steve James, who also brought us the seminal documentary Hoop Dreams.
The incident in question occurred in 1993 when a then 17-year-old Iverson, along with a group of friends, became involved in a heated exchange with a group of white youths at the local bowling alley, which resulted in a mass brawl breaking out. While witness statements varied wildly, with some claiming Iverson was quickly escorted from the premises as soon as the fight began, the local high school star was eventually charged for his involvement and would ultimately be sentenced to prison time, serving four months.
Iverson would serve his time, complete his final year of high school and eventually pursue a college career with Georgetown University. Though Iverson ultimately did move past this turbulent period in his life, there was a lasting effect in that he, before ever setting foot in a professional setting, would now be forever looked upon as a something of a thug who, despite being supremely talented, was likely to implode at any point.
Number One Pick & Emergence As A Superstar
Following two relatively successful years with Georgetown, Iverson declared for the 1996 NBA draft and was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers with their number one pick. The acquisition of Iverson was a much needed boost for the 76ers, who had endured a number of dismal seasons following the departure of Charles Barkley in 1992.
Though Iverson had an impressive first season in Philadelphia, winning Rookie of the Year honours while averaging 23.5 points per game, the 76ers improvements were initially minimal. However, this would all change in the 1998-1999 season when, led by Iverson’s league best scoring average of 26.8 points per game, the team would reach the playoffs for the first time in eight years.
They would ultimately be swept by the Indiana Pacers in the second round but the performances of their diminutive star highlighted the fact that the Philadelphia franchise was once again a contender for the NBA title.
While Iverson had firmly established himself as a franchise player at this stage, the 2000-2001 season would see Iverson truly take up the mantle as one of the league’s bona fide elite stars. At just 6ft tall Iverson had already become the shortest ever number one draft pick in 1996, and 2001 would see him set another record when he became the shortest ever player to be selected as NBA MVP.
It was just rewards for Iverson who had led the league in scoring once again (31.1 PPG) and would also lead his team to its first NBA Finals berth in close to 20 years. Unfortunately for Philadelphia they would come face to face with the dominant Shaq and Kobe led Lakers who, despite some heroic performances from Iverson, would seal their second straight NBA championship.
Downhill Slope and Disciplinary Issues
That MVP season would ultimately prove a high point in Iverson’s career who, though still maintaining a high level of individual performance, failed to ignite any further deep playoff runs for his franchise. During his remaining six seasons with Philadelphia the team would only make it past the first round of the playoffs on one occasion and would miss out on the postseason altogether three times. It was at this juncture that the selfish and ill-disciplined Iverson would come to the fore.
In the ensuing years following their narrow defeat to the Lakers right, up until when he would eventually leave the team in 2006, Iverson found himself embroiled in numerous controversial and disciplinary issues. Among these issues was his now infamous “practice” rant, arguments with coaches, refusal to play in a game, team fines and finally a demand to be traded. This period of his career highlighted what many of Iverson’s harshest critics cited as his primary flaw; an unfortunate tendency to self-destruct.
Iverson would eventually leave the 76ers and become something of a nomad around the league, playing for the Denver Nuggets, Detroit Pistons, and Memphis Grizzlies before returning to Philadelphia. He never regained the heights of his early years in the City of Brotherly Love but even in his twilight years in the league “The Answer” continued to be a great source of excitement and entertainment.
Allen Iverson’s NBA career is perhaps best viewed as a microcosm of the man himself; at its best truly brilliant and at its worst painfully frustrating, yet all the while completely compelling. During his time in the league he was a perennial all-star and, given his slight frame, he was a quite remarkable offensive force.
Described by LeBron James as “pound-for-pound, probably the greatest player who ever played”, a quick look through his highlight reel emphasises that, from his ankle breaking crossovers to his guile when attacking the basket, he was a phenomenally gifted player.
Allen Iverson may not have been to everyone’s taste and he may have ruffled more than his fair share of feathers on the way but, when it really boils down to it, his career was one of the most exhilarating and fun to watch that the NBA has ever seen.
NBA Career Stats: PPG: 26.7, APG: 6.2. RPG: 3.7, SPG: 2.2, BPG: 0.2.
NBA Honours: 1 Time NBA MVP, 11 Time NBA All-Star, 2 Time All-Star Game MVP, 4 Time NBA Scoring Champion.
Brian Bowler, Pundit Arena.