There is only one word that can describe Allen Iverson, tough. How else could you explain a six-foot, 165lb PG that played the game as if he was 6-9″? For Iverson basketball never meant dreams of the NBA, it was more of an escape from reality. His childhood and troubles in his past have been read, written and made fun of for years but the truth, the truth is he changed the NBA in more ways than any player ever has.
Iverson was forced to put not just a team on his back but a franchise while carrying the weight of Virginia as well. His status as one of the game’s marquee players was solidified not only by his play on the court but by his competitive spirit. What we saw in Iverson, was us. They way we played basketball in the inner city, with the trash talking, fancy dribbling, cornrows and baggy clothes, Iverson brought that to sold out arenas. He was one of us, he spoke and played for the kids that wouldn’t have an opportunity to do so.
Isiah Thomas was the little guy with heart and Iverson picked up right where Thomas left off. He took heat for playing like an SG, not for being a ball distributor like the NBA was used to for a player in his role. But Iverson was different; he had to be everything for everybody, and no one was ever satisfied. Iverson played with a passion, the same passion Michael Jordan and Kobe Brant played with, but people took this as arrogance and ghetto.
But Iverson played didn’t just play for a team, he played for his city, family, friends, coaches and he played for the culture. By the time Iverson came to the NBA it was tight shorts, tighter lips, and rough play. But the six-foot guard never blinked at the size of the players or the ego of the front office. Iverson spoke, played and dressed how he wanted to, and it may have hurt him endorsement wise but he always saw the game as a means to an end.
His play on the court was everything the NBA expected but his demeanor off the court was what they hoped it wouldn’t be, for one reason. They wanted to contain him. His run-in with the law is the stuff of YouTube legends, but that was a young High School kid that turned his life around once he got with John Thompson in Georgetown. The NBA watched a young happy kid turn into their worst nightmare right before their eyes, and there was nothing they could do about it.
Imagine Michael Jordan with cornrows, piles of jewelry and an entourage that could rival the President’s Secret Service detail. That was Iverson on a daily basis. Post Game interviews were the norm in the NBA, no rules, but once the personality of Iverson got in front of a mic and camera, David Stern decided to make changes, status quo. There will be no more t-shirts and hats, pretty much they had to do away with the urban gear and look more professional. But Iverson, staying true to what got him there, bucked at the rules and Stern, and did what made him comfortable.
He challenged coaches, but it was done after coaches challenge him in the media. People attacked his friends, not understanding that in the inner-city, family and friends are the same. Iverson fought back and the NBA basically blackballed him. What makes Iverson’s story so amusing is that, as much as Stern and coaches despised his actions, they needed him to continue to be him. His stats are Hall of Fame worthy, his influence on the floor is legendary and how he inspired Generation X to strive to be more than a statistic, proved his worth off the court.
The NBA didn’t save Iverson’s life, it may have changed it but he helped change the game to what we see today. If you hate zone defenses, thank Iverson for that. The leagues had to do something to try to stop him. You marvel at the way Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, and Chris Paul play the game, ask them where that influence came from. You smile every time you see Riley Curry at the podium with Stephen, thank Iverson for that.
But here is one you cannot thank Iverson for. He never tried to hold a team hostage by demanding a trade or pushing for better talent. He took what he had and made the best of a terrible situation. So, before you go on a rant about how bad of an image he gave the league, look at the person’s jersey you’re wearing and ask what was the last team he put on his back.